WOODBRIDGE, Va. — Minor league baseball players entertain communities across the country as they try to earn spots in the major leagues. And many of the communities respond by offering the low-paid athletes homes, food and a place to belong.
The Potomac Nationals Booster Club, which supports the Class A Advanced affiliate team of the Washington Nationals, tries to make players feel at home in the suburban Washington community.
Every new Potomac player is given a monogrammed blanket from the booster club to take on road trips. The club also gives players gift cards to popular restaurants like Chipotle throughout the season to help with the cost of meals.
“We like to make them feel welcome when they first arrive,” said Dave Mitolo, a booster club member. “We know it’s hard being away from home.”
The biggest way the club tries to help players living on shoestring budgets is by providing host families with whom they can live for free. Eighteen families host this year.
Not every host family belongs to the booster club, but most do. They usually host one to three players per season.
Some players, like pitcher Ronald Pena from West Palm, Florida, rely on their host family for very little beyond a place to stay. Pena brought his car to Potomac for the season and can shuttle himself to and from the stadium.
Others, like second baseman Bryan Mejia, who moved from the Dominican Republic, hosts Scott and Toni Bruffey provide a real feeling of home.
“They’re good people,” Mejia said in Spanish through a translator. “They’re always supporting me…I feel like I’m with my family here.”
Mejia also lived with the Bruffeys last season.
Dominican players Gilberto Mendez and Kelvin Guiterrez also live with the Bruffeys, and the three players enjoy cooking their favorite dishes, like rice and beans, for their host family.
The Bruffeys try to do as much as they can to take care of “their kids,” as they call the players because they have no children..
Host families are not required to spend much on the players, but the Bruffeys buy the men groceries and enjoy taking them out to eat. Scott works from home and drives them to the ballpark most days. Pena sometimes gives them rides if Scott is busy.
The Bruffeys have hosted players for six years and remain close with many, including Rafael Bautista. Scott went to see Bautista in Washington this spring, where he played five games with the Nationals before being reassigned to the Triple-A Syracuse Chiefs in May.
“It’s a relationship,” Scott said. “We are their American family. You become a part of their lives forever.”
The Potomac Nationals Booster Club also has helped other teams like the Harrisburg Senators, the Nationals’ Double-A affiliate, grow their host family programs.