Host families, a benefit for players like the Angels' Carlos Estévez, go by the wayside
Published in Baseball
ANAHEIM, Calif. — Carlos Estévez was 20 when the Rockies organization sent him to Grand Junction, Colo.
This was in 2013 and Estévez, now a fan-favorite Angels closer with 12 saves, at the time was navigating the early years of his professional career. He'd spent the previous two years in the Dominican Summer League, then was sent to Tri-City, formerly a Rockies affiliate, but was there just a few days before being moved to Colorado.
"I just showed up," Estévez recalled. "I didn't have a host family, I didn't have [housing]. But one of my teammates told me 'they're looking for someone to stay with them.' And I was like, 'well, I think that's where I'm going.' "
The same day Estévez arrived in Grand Junction, he was introduced to Stephany and Bruce Hagen, and Josh, their youngest child (they also have a daughter, who at the time was away at college). Estévez spent only about a year with the Hagens, but formed such a strong connection with them that when he was set to make his major league debut in 2016 in Denver, a four-hour drive from Grand Junction, he called to make sure they would be there.
"'Yes, of course we're coming. When is it?' " Stephany recalled the conversation. " 'Today? Oh, OK.' He goes, 'I'll have tickets for you.' " The Hagens are looking forward to seeing Estévez again this season, when he and the Angels head to Colorado for a series in June.
Forming this kind of connection between a player and fans was, in essence, meant to be the best part of the host family program while providing a home away from home for players who couldn't afford their own hotel room or apartment.
Minor league players unionized under the Major League Baseball Players Association umbrella and ratified their first collective bargaining agreement with team owners in March, which guaranteed housing and increased pay, among other benefits. With that new CBA, host families are no longer permitted.
"While players are sincerely appreciative of the many fans who hosted players in their homes, they're excited this spring about the first minor league CBA, including salary and housing policy improvements that made the practice unnecessary," the players union said in a statement.
The host family program wasn't a perfect system. Estévez's experience was not the same for every other minor leaguer across the country. Estévez was like family to the Hagens, who drove him around to where he needed to get to or allowed him use of the family car when they could not.
"They really helped a lot," Estévez recalled. "As soon as I got there they were like, 'Hey, whatever you need just let us know.' ... If I didn't have that good level of comfort, I don't know how I was going to do in rookie ball. And I did really good."
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