After the forced cancellation of the 2020 baseball season, the Vermont Mountaineers have their roster set and their ballpark ready to go for 2021. Unfortunately, the team is far behind in finding host families for its players, and they’re sounding the alarm.
“We’re way behind in finding enough host families for our players this summer,” Mountaineers General Manager Brian Gallagher said in an interview Thursday. “Normally by now we have all of our host families secured for the season. This year, we’re 15 beds short for our 35-player roster.”
Gallagher noted that concerns about COVID-19 have likely played a role in the apprehension but added that the team will test all players before coming to Vermont and again before they are sent to their host families. The team will be practicing social distancing while together and will be following enhanced cleaning protocols. Road trips will be limited to teams within their division with 25-player rosters, so the team is only going to the ballpark and then returning to Montpelier and not spending time out in the other communities. They will also encourage all players to get vaccines as soon as they are eligible. “We’re taking every precaution from the CDC and the Governor’s Office,” Gallagher said.
Host families only need to have a bed for the college-aged player and the ability for them to eat breakfast and maybe some other meals on off-days. Players will be fed at the stadium when they are there. They will also have their own transportation and cell phones. For their trouble, host families receive season tickets to the games, free baseball camps for kids in the house, and a big “thank-you barbecue” put on by the team. Gallagher notes that it is a great experience for both the player and the family, as the players who have gone on to play professionally have kept in touch with their host families. Anyone interested in hosting a Mountaineers player should contact Beth at (802) 595-5239 or email HostFamilies@theVermontMountaineers.com.
Gallagher also noted even if someone can’t host a player, the team still needs volunteers for a wide variety of jobs. Folks can email Kevin at Volunteers@TheVermontMountaineers.com for more information on that front. Volunteers receive a free tee shirt and can get free tickets to games.
Even without the pandemic, this has been one of the strangest baseball off-seasons in recent memory. The reorganization of Minor League Baseball resulted in more than 40 teams being jettisoned from affiliated baseball, including the former A-level Vermont Lake Monsters, who play in Burlington. The Lake Monsters were the only professional team in the state, but now will be competing in the Futures Collegiate Baseball League, a summer college wood-bat league like the New England Collegiate Baseball League in which the Mountaineers play.
Gallagher notes that while both leagues draw from current collegians, there is a difference in quality between the two. “We’re the number two league in the country, behind the Cape Cod League,” stated Gallagher. He went on to say that the NECBL has a track record of getting players noticed by professional scouts which helps draw top-level players to the league. The league recently noted that 28 NECBL alumni are now on MLB’s top prospect lists.
All but two of the 2021 Mountaineers come from NCAA Division I schools, including six from the so-called “Power 5 Conferences.” While no Vermonters are on the roster — a problem Gallagher chalked up to a lack of collegiate baseball programs in the state — more than a dozen players who are either from New England or go to a school in the region will suit up for the Mountaineers.
Even when the Lake Monsters played with professional minor league players, the Mountaineers were still able to draw well, and Gallagher expects that to continue.
“We’ve had very big crowds in the past and I don’t think it will affect us.” He noted that Montpelier’s ballpark is well suited for spacing out crowds with lawn chair seating in addition to the grandstands. The season will start in early June and they are looking to the Governor’s Office for guidance on what capacities will be possible for the season, but Gallagher hopes Gov. Phil Scott is correct when he said that he believes Vermont should be back to something close to a pre-pandemic footing by July 4.
In order for that season to happen, Gallagher again noted that the community needed to step up and provide host families so that everyone can enjoy baseball again this summer.