Somewhere in the stories of most ballplayers chasing their dreams in the minor leagues is a period of time when they are welcomed into the home of a host family.
These are the stories of two such families that are affiliated with the Lake Elsinore Storm Booster Club (the “Boosters”). The Storm is the Padres’ Class A-Advanced affiliate. The families have housed many Padres prospects over the years, including Dinelson Lamet, Luis Campusano, and Ronald Bolaños.
Boosting the Storm
The Storm’s host family program was started in 1994 by Melody Kaiser and has been coordinated for the past nine years by Dilayla Ebel.
The Boosters is a nonprofit organization that supports the team with fundraising events that help players with living expenses such as food and incidentals. The group holds various events throughout the season including tailgate parties, banquets, and “Pass the Hat” (a popular, in-the-stands collection for homeruns and strikeouts).
The organization currently has about 21 host families that provide free housing to players in need while they are active with the Storm.
Dilayla and her husband Tom have hosted 17 players over the past ten years. The list includes two players on the current Padres roster: Dinelson Lamet and Luis “Campy” Campusano.
There are usually two players living in the home with the couple, with each player having his own guest room and sharing a bathroom.
I asked Dilayla to tell me a story or two about what it was like when Lamet was living in her home.
“He refers to me as Doña.
When I had him and Yimmi Brosoban, Lamet would cook every morning, and Yimmi would clean up.
Lamet kicked me out of my kitchen when he saw me making white rice. LOL. I was making it all wrong.
He would cook rice, chicken, eggs, plantains, avocado and a large glass of orange juice. It was a feast.
Lamet is a very serious young man when it comes to baseball. He works very hard, and it shows.
It is very emotional when players leave. I always cry.“
Dilayla keeps in touch with her players and often reconnects with them at Spring Training in Peoria.
As for Campusano, Dilayla says that on his application he stated a desire for a “kickback family,” and she felt that they were the perfect fit.
When he arrived at the house, she was somewhat taken aback by his considerable luggage and accoutrements.
“After parking his Audi in the driveway, we helped him make several trips to the stadium to get his personal belongings.
By ‘belongings’ that meant six large rolling luggage and several duffle bags.
He had so much stuff that we made the second bedroom his walk-in closet!
You asked about his penchant for shoes … OMG, did he have shoes … about 40+ pairs … and clothes … he was named one of the best dressed players!”
As for Campy’s food preferences:
“He would always pick up Chipotle prior to heading to work.
He also loved his Chips Ahoy after work with a big glass of milk. We always made sure he had his cookies.”
Cristina and her husband Victor joined the host program in 2018. Her family (which includes two daughters) is bilingual. Cristina, originally from Orange County and an Angels fan, joined the program to help players from Latin American countries “feel more at home.”
“All of the players we’ve hosted are Spanish speaking only, which has been wonderful for us since we are really able to connect with our players and understand each others’ culture.
We have became close to our players and always stay in touch. It has been so fun for us and our girls!”
Cristina’s family has hosted several players including Ronald Bolaños, a pitcher from Cuba signed by the Padres in 2016 who was recently traded to the Kansas City Royals for reliever Tim Hill.
As you can see below, the players’ lives blend into the activities of the host families during their stays. (We were unable to confirm whether Bolaños’s tutorial sessions resulted in higher grades for Cristina’s daughter.)
MiLB in “wait & see” mode
The stories of host families and their players are just one of many reasons that fans of the game are so enchanted by the minor leagues and concerned for its long term prospects.
Just when it seemed as though the national spotlight was turning towards the plight of minor league baseball and the meager earnings of its players, the coronavirus pandemic dealt a devastating blow.
The dreams of countless players have been put on hold, and the future of many MiLB teams is very much up in the air.
The Storm hopes to return to the playing field in 2021. But so much still depends on the virus situation and pending decisions about MiLb in general, according to Kevin Charity of MadFriars. The Storm appears to be well-positioned because of its reputation as having one of the better facilities in the California League as well as its proximity to San Diego. But, as Charity says, “No one knows yet who’s in or out.”
We can only hope that the farm systems are up and running again soon.
Host families give their players a “home away from home.” The bonds run deep, as Dilayla expresses here about Campusano’s major league debut.
“I forgot one more thing about Campy.
Prior to going to work he would ask if I would take pics of him. He’s been working on his poses. He doesn’t smile too much when taking pics, but he had the biggest smile when he hit the homerun.
I appreciate baseball more now. To be watching a game and to see a player you know personally do that is even more special.”
Mostly here to promote fun baseball! My focus is on our experiences as fans and shared connections in the baseball community. I also produce content on social media, including vlogs and event coverage. Instagram: Michelle_baseballfan247 Facebook: Michelle Frost; Member: IBWAA, SABR