Pulaski players find home away from home
PULASKI — First baseman Gilmer Lampe could be seen searching for his parents outside the Pulaski Mariners locker room just prior to Monday night’s game against the Kingsport Mets.
Minutes later, the 22-year-old Aruban had succeeded and was chatting with 7-year-old Dylan Richardson and Dylan’s grandfather David Coburn — Lampe’s Pulaski parents.
Richardson and Coburn make up one of 18 families who have been paired with a specific player or players for the season by Meredith McGrady as part of the Mariners’ Adopt-a-Player program.
In her third season heading up the program alongside her husband, Wally, Meredith McGrady said the purpose of the program is to help the players feel like they have a family in Pulaski, which for many players is more than 1,000 miles away from their real families.
She pointed out that most of the players on the team are only making base pay, which Pulaski Mariners General Manager Abby Lyman said was generally just over $1,000 a month and does not include their lodging in Pulaski.
McGrady said she first became aware of the players’ challenging conditions during the 2010 season when she noticed a group of the players making a close to five-mile trip from their apartment to the ballpark and back each day on foot. McGrady said she quickly became the group’s summer chauffeur.
“I put about 3,000 miles on my Explorer in three months,” Meredith McGrady said.
Now the team stays together in a Wytheville hotel and has the option of traveling in vans provided by the team.
Of course, not all of the players are making the league minimum, and some even have their own vehicle in town, but as Wally McGrady pointed out, they are still in somewhat of a foreign land.
“It’s their job, but they’re away from everything they know,” Wally McGrady said. “You don’t realize how much a home-cooked meal means to them.”
Meals, and nutrition in general, are one of the major concerns facing the players, whose restaurant options are often limited to a Waffle House by the time they return to Wytheville late each night, Meredith McGrady said.
It is an issue that even has a few of the players’ real parents concerned so much that Lyman said it is not unusual for her to get the occasional phone call from parents to check in on their son’s well-being.
This was also the case for John Huijer, whose son, Lars Huijer, made his way to Pulaski’s pitching mound all the way from North Holland this season.
During a recent visit to Calfee Park, John Huijer said that prior to meeting Lars’ adoptive parents, Wally and Meredith McGrady, he had worried about his son eating well enough while playing overseas. But after visiting, he said he knew his son is in good hands.
Meredith McGrady said many of the families who visit find it comforting when they learn of the Adopt-a-Player program. For parents who cannot visit their children, McGrady said she is often able to use Facebook to keep them informed, as well.
To combat the nutrition issues, Meredith McGrady said the group of “parents” tries to provide at least one meal for the team per home stand, either by collaborating with local restaurants or using the stadium’s kitchen to cook during the final innings of a game.
Many of the families also take their players to local grocery stores to stock up, as well as bringing fresh fruits and vegetables straight out of their own gardens for the players. The latter is a gift Lampe said he thoroughly, and quickly, enjoyed courtesy of his parents.
Prior to Monday’s game, Lampe said the majority of the previous night’s supply of fresh plums, peaches and cherries he received from Coburn and Richardson never even made it to the hotel.
Though such gifts are appreciated, Lampe said his favorite aspect of the program was the relationship he was able to build with Richardson and Coburn.
“Every night, they come talk to me. If I play not so well, they cheer me up,” Lampe said. “It’s something different. It’s not baseball, baseball, baseball.”
Coburn said he and Richardson had planned to spend Lampe’s recent off-day entertaining the player, but Lampe nixed that plan as soon as he found out the date fell on the same day as Coburn’s wedding anniversary, telling Coburn he had a girl back home and completely understood.
Much like actual family, many of the relationships formed end up lasting long after the players have left the nest.
Meredith McGrady said that during her first stint as a player parent in 2009, she and her husband grew so close to player Brandon Haveman and his frequently visiting girlfriend that they received an invitation to the outfielder’s wedding.
Other parents said they regularly keep up with where their players go after leaving Pulaski through Facebook and email.
When it comes to keeping in touch, however, no parent might be better than 71-year-old Mont Quesenberry.
Quesenberry, known by many as the Mariners’ “super fan” for traveling to all the team’s away games, not only regularly exchanges emails with his former players, but also makes an effort each season to go watch the ones who have moved on to play for other teams.
Through his efforts, Quesenberry has become not only a friend to many players, but also a source of wisdom.
Most recently Quesenberry said South African pitcher Dylan Unsworth, who played in Pulaski last season and currently plays for the Everett AquaSox in Washington state, sought advice on purchasing a phone.
Like many parents would, Quesenberry said he talked Unsworth out of the expensive phone he originally wanted and helped the 19-year-old find a more affordable option.
Such support is something Quesenberry and many other parents have said they are more than happy to provide.
“I think it makes them feel like somebody here cares. They know they have someone in the stands and cheering for them,” Quesenberry said.
Wally McGrady said he also hopes their efforts show the Mariners organization how much the fans care about keeping the team in Pulaski.
“We want the Mariners to stay here,” Wally McGrady said.
Though the season is nearing its halfway point, Meredith McGrady made it clear there is still plenty of time for any fan suffering from empty-nest syndrome.
“It’s never too late to adopt,” she said.
The Roanoke Times | 381-1643
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