By Erika Webb
America's favorite pastime is looking for some help in DeLand this summer.
The DeLand Suns are just about ready to get into the swing of things in Central Florida where they will play about 50 games between the end of May and the first part of August.
At least 10 host families are needed to provide a home base for players from out of town.
Founded in 2003, the Florida Collegiate Summer League is a wood bat baseball league with six teams in Central Florida, one of which is the Suns.
"The Florida League provides a valuable opportunity for college players to play wood bat baseball against top-level competition with the goal of preparing them for a career in professional baseball," according to floridaleague.com.
So far this year only two Suns players -- Tyler Brooks and Dustin Dye -- are from DeLand.
It will be Tyler's second year on the team.
The woman also known as "Mama Brooks" -- because her door is always open -- will manage the Florida League Suns for the first time.
Theresa Brooks has loved the game since childhood when her favorite team was the Baltimore Orioles.
Both of her sons have played baseball and Mrs. Brooks has coached Little League players and has umpired games from Little League through the senior leagues.
Last year she and her husband, Mike Brooks, hosted a Suns player from Clayton, Ga.
They'll host again this year.
The couple enjoys the opportunity to foster long-term relationships.
"These are the players that have the potential to go on (to the Major League)," Mrs. Brooks said. "Their families are very appreciative of our community welcoming their players."
She understands the feeling.
Her youngest son, Tyler, is a pitcher at LaGrange College, an eight-hour drive from DeLand.
"I have had to rely on the families up there," Mrs. Brooks said. "They've opened their hearts and homes to us. They've been very good to him and to me."
Host families take players into their homes over the course of the nine-week season. Players arrive during the last week of May and generally stay through the second week of August at the latest, Mrs. Brooks said.
Families are asked to provide a stable, clean, healthy environment with access to a washer, dryer and refrigerator.
"They eat. They eat. They eat," Mrs. Brooks said, laughing.
While players are asked to pay $50 weekly to host families, hosts are asked to provide a few meals each week to the players, if possible.
"We ask that you provide breakfast and/or lunch items daily as the Florida League provides all players with a pre-game meal before all home and away games," Florida League President Rob Sitz wrote in a letter to potential host families.
DeLand restaurants, such as Casey's on the Corner, Bellini's, Hunter's and Oudom Thai, all provided post-game meals last year, Mrs. Brooks said.
"The chance to help a college student-athlete pursue his dream can be extremely rewarding," Mr. Sitz explained. "You will be a crucial part of the success of our league by providing over 175 players the opportunity to play wood bat baseball while also giving 20 coaches and 20 college/graduate interns an opportunity to hone their professional skills."
As manager, Mrs. Brooks will receive assistance from three interns majoring in sports broadcasting and sports management.
Her duties include finding host families, getting sponsorships, overseeing game day operations and after game meal organizing.
Efficiency is one of her strong suits, but the help will be welcome.
The Suns play six nights a week during the summer season.
The Florida League is one of 10 collegiate leagues in the country supported and partially funded by major league baseball, according to the Suns' brochure.
"These players are rising stars who all have ambitions to play Major League Baseball," Mr. Sitz noted. "You, as a host family, will play a big part in their success in Central Florida and in their careers as baseball players."
A number of players have caught the attention of scouts who attend the games.
Over the Florida League's 11 years, 240 players have been drafted into the major league; 29 played for the Suns, Mrs. Brooks said.
Players are recruited through their college baseball coaches, she said, explaining they are under contract, just not paid.
"All of them have agreed to maintain impeccable moral standards, abide by NCAA guidelines and be a role model to our fans," Mr. Sitz wrote.
Each host family receives two season passes to Florida League games and "they all become a member of the Florida League family," he stated.
It will be a busy summer but "Mama Brooks" is ready.
"I'm looking forward to seeing these players learn and grow under Head Coach Rick Hall, one of the best coaches I've seen," Mrs. Brooks said.
Helpful Hosting Hints from the League:
The ideal number of players per host family is two, although one is great as well
All players provide their own transportation
Host families are expected to commit to the entire season
Be aware that players will often return very late from games (often after midnight)
These will be college students between the ages of 18-21
To host a player or for sponsorship opportunities and ticket information, call Theresa Brooks at (386) 738-3863.