Stretching back to the days of the Medford Athletics, local families have volunteered to host young men from around the country as summer baseball season arrives.
When the short-season single-A minor league affiliate's time was up at Miles Field, in came the Southern Oregon RiverDawgs, a collegiate wood-bat squad.
Both defunct franchises relied upon host families to provide the Rogue Valley's baseball visitors with places to stay.
Now a West Coast League franchise has entered the picture. The Rogues — led by former Klamath Falls Gems general manager Chuck Heeman — will annually seek shelter for up to 30 players in need of homes over the course of 21/2 months during the summer (the season begins May 31).
Heeman and others involved in baseball locally say hosting a player benefits both the community and the families involved. He says the Rogues have a tested system in place to ensure the satisfaction of host families and to make sure that players remain on their best behavior.
One local family did, however, have a negative experience hosting players for the RiverDawgs — which has no connection to the Rogues — last year. Cathy Rimov of Medford cautions those interested in adopting out-of-area athletes to beware of the risks of inviting strangers into the home.
The issue came to light recently after the Rogues submitted a brief to the Mail Tribune seeking host families, prompting the Rimovs to write a letter to the newspaper sharing their experience.
Cathy and Paul Rimov say they had high expectations when they decided to host two teenagers. Those hopes were replaced with resentment as they say their underage visitors drank alcohol, avoided them and their son and damaged some of their property over nine weeks. The Rimovs did not report the misbehavior to the RiverDawgs until late in the 2012 season.
Former Southern Oregon RiverDawgs assistant coach Tim Alvarez and president Steve Jensen agree that the family and the players — who were 18 and 19 at the time — were a poor match, but both say the Rimovs should have informed them of the issues sooner.
"The boys never felt comfortable and they never said anything," says Alvarez, who took in the players after they were evicted by the Rimovs. "The homeowners weren't super comfortable. It was never a good fix.
"When you are in someone else's home, you come in on your best behavior. They didn't respect that home."
Other community members, like the Pearsons of Medford, have had positive experiences as host families.
Mark and Debbie Pearson hosted RiverDawgs in 2011 and 2012. Debbie says the players who lived with them were exceptional role models for their teenage sons and that they became like family members. They all still stay in touch, Debbie says.
"The boys were all good kids," she says. "They helped out around the house and did stuff with our boys."
The Rimovs experience was different. Right away, Cathy says, the players would not do chores, including taking out the trash, and acted disinterested in her teenage son. Things escalated when she found alcohol bottles in the players' shared room.
The Rimovs evicted the two athletes late in the season.
"We thought they would set an example and help out around the house," says Cathy. "That is what we were told. Every time we asked them to do something they said, 'We're going fishing, we won't be home.' We quit asking.
"They came home drunk all the time. They avoided us constantly, avoided us completely. They were gone during the day and came home late at night."
The Rogues have several procedures in place to ensure successful pairings, Heeman says. A detailed series of interviews takes place before matches are made and constant communication is encouraged afterward, he says. WCL players must be academically eligible and playing in college or committed to attend one. Colleges do background checks, Heeman says.
"When they get here, we talk to players before anything happens and tell them our expectations, written expectations that they have to sign," Heeman says. "We stress to the host families over and over and over if the player is doing anything that bothers you — if he has the radio up too loud, if he snores, you have got to tell us. It is really a communication thing."
The Rimovs say they regret not contacting the RiverDawgs sooner and not monitoring the athletes more closely.
"We failed to follow up," Paul says. "We were just trying to allow some trust and privacy. That was a failure on our part to not be more involved in the situation. We were kind of just naive."
Jensen says the problems could have been resolved had the Rimovs expressed them quicker.
"I finally called this lady up and talked to her multiple times," Jensen says. "I talked to the boys. They felt bad she was upset. We went to her and said, 'Why are we hearing this at the end of July? If you would have said there were some issues we would have dealt with it.'"
Heeman says that issues rarely arose when he worked at Klamath Falls — another WCL squad — but that action was quickly taken when trouble was discovered.
"I don't think there were more than about two instances when we had to do it," Heeman says. "Once the player knows it has to stop, it has to stop. We will — but never have — but we will send a player home if he is not behaving or not abiding by the code of conduct."
The Rogues have enlisted 10 host families and are seeking 12 to 14 more.
Anyone interested can call the Rogues at 541-973-2883, or visit www.medfordrogues.com.
Reach reporter Dan Jones at 541-776-4499, or email firstname.lastname@example.org