Just because he’s finished contributing on the field doesn’t mean the summer work is over for Baltimore Redbirds pitcherScott Strickland.
Though Strickland helped the local Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League squad qualify for the playoffs, which begin July 27, his college coaches have shut down the right-hander after he logged 130 innings of work between his collegiate season at Armstrong Atlantic State University in Georgia and his summer campaign with the Redbirds.
Even so, Strickland spent July 22 doing a bit more throwing than he normally would — and in a different venue than usual.
Instead of 90 MPH fastballs, Strickland and John Roberts, lifelong friend and catcher, were hurling 10-year-olds into the July night sky, with the children’s excitement only momentarily muted when they splashed into the deep end of a neighborhood pool.
For the players, some of whom hail from major universities, it was a brief respite from the heat after a long, hot doubleheader.
But for Staci Shelley, whose 10-year-old son, Brendan, was being tossed around the pool by the young men whom he has grown to idolize over the summer, it was another in a long line of special moments that hosting baseball players for
the summer has brought her family.
“They’re not only a part of our family but a part of this community,” Staci Shelley said.
The Redbirds, a team of local players and imports from around the country, play home games at Calvert Hall’s Carlo Crispino Stadium in Towson in a league that offers college players the chance to continue their development as they chase the dream of playing baseball for a living.
And, in order for the team to stay within a modest budget, owner John Carey searches to find summer homes for each player and goes out of his way to make sure he’s bringing in players with good character.
“I tell their coaches, ‘Look, I’d love your most talented player, but with one caveat.’" said Carey, whose son, Jack, graduated from St. Paul’s, plays for Wake Forest University and was a part-time designated hitter for the Redbirds this summer. “‘I want the most talented player who’s also a good kid.’”
“We get all the credit, but without these people, we can’t do what we do,” Strickland said. “You can’t say enough nice things about the Shelleys. It takes really special people to open your home up to two complete strangers.”
The families that house the Redbirds span the demographics. Many are families with young children, such as the Shelleys, of Stoneleigh, and the Hudaks, of Phoenix. The Durkees, of Owings Mills, and the Woods family, of Cockeysville, have older children. Others, like the Aarsands, of Owings Mills, and the Neveroskys, of Towson, don’t have kids.
No matter what their lives were like before the players arrived, none said there was a single drawback to their summer guests. What the family is asked to give is nothing in comparison to what the players add to their lives.
“It starts with opening a room in your house and it becomes so much more,” Mike Hudak said. “It’s a gift that keeps giving. I was blindsided by that.”
The Hudaks, in their second year of hosting, influenced several families to join them this season with tales of last summer’s guest, University of North Carolina outfielder Seth Baldwin.
A year after he went back to the Tar Heel State, Baldwin is still in frequent contact with the Hudaks. They went to see him play for UNC this season, and hope he can join them at the beach later this summer.
On top of being a perfect gentleman — which is how every player is described — Baldwin developed a relationship with the family that was bigger than baseball. When David Hudak, 12, was feeling nervous on the way to an all-star game, it was a text from Baldwin that calmed his nerves.
As her boys grow, Ann Marie Hudak hopes that Baldwin and this year’s Redbird, University of Louisville catcher Jeff Gardner, can continue to be brotherly figures to David and his younger brother, Joseph, 10.
Though Gardner is more reserved, his impact on the family is profound. He often retreats to the basement to work out after games, showing the boys the commitment it takes to reach the highest level.
Joseph wears a Louisville Cardinals necklace over his North Carolina one as a tribute to past and present housemates. After one game, Gardner spent 45 minutes in the driveway working with David on his swing.