When the Cleveland Indians acquired highly touted relief pitcher Andrew Miller in a trade with the New York Yankees last season, Akron Children’s Hospital Pediatrics (ACHP) pediatric nurse practitioner Denise Stoneman was one of the first to hear about it.
She had an inside source, former Mahoning Valley Scrapper Ben Heller, who happened to be included in the trade.
Stoneman, her husband Dave and their 2 teenage sons have been a Scrappers host family for the past five seasons, and the bonds they’ve formed with the 11 players who have temporarily lived in their Boardman home have been life-changing, according to Denise.
“When they get any promotions, it’s wonderful because they’ll text us or call us before it makes it on social media,” she said. “We’re part of their extended family and they include us in the news. It usually goes moms, dads, girlfriends, and then us.”
Heller was the Stonemans’ “first host son” in 2013, and he’s the first one to reach the Major Leagues, albeit as a Yankee in 2016.
“We continue to follow him even though we lost him to the Yankees, and we’re really proud of what he’s accomplished,” she said.
The Stonemans have three players this year, the most they’ve ever had at one time.
“They play MLB The Show video game with my boys, they play basketball in the driveway,” she said. “It’s a big transition for them, and when people ask why we do it, we say it’s because of what we’re able to offer the guys, which is a home away from home and a supportive environment while they’re chasing their dream.”
Host families receive vouchers to attend home games, but no other compensation. Stoneman said her family attends 35 of the 40 home games per year, plus goes on at least three road trips each season.
Stoneman said a common misconception about the players is that some fans assume they all have millions of dollars. In truth, she said, only a few receive large signing bonuses after being drafted, and otherwise they make just a couple hundred dollars a week at this level of the minor leagues.
“We’ve been so blessed and rewarded, and can’t say enough nice things about all 11 boys we’ve had,” she said. “They’re good kids from good families, and they’re all appreciative of what we do for them.”