San Jose foster home program ends as SF Giants move into housing
Since 1982, the foster family program has been a staple of the San Jose Giants season. Today, 40 years later, its future remains uncertain.
Major League Baseball instituted a new policy regarding Minor League housing standards ahead of the 2022 season. Although homestays are permitted under the policy, the San Francisco Giants have opted to provide furnished accommodations to their minor leaguers.
San Jose‘s program was the first in the California League, according to league historian Chris Lampe.
The foster care program began when the San Jose Giants were still a cooperative team, according to Linda Pereira, former director of San Jose player personnel and creator of the program.
“We had freelancers who weren’t making a lot of money and even then couldn’t afford the rents in the Bay Area,” Pereira explained.
There are families who have taken in players from its inception until 2019, Pereira said, before the 2020 season was canceled and coronavirus concerns prompted the Giants to provide accommodation for players. In order to become a host, an application was submitted and Pereira would interview them to make sure they were a good match.
“He wasn’t someone who just wanted a player to have a player,” Pereira said. “You had to open your heart, as well as your home, to have these people in your home.”
These days, however, the idea of foster families is a concept that many players have long outgrown.
Travis Ishikawa, the San Jose batting coach and former San Francisco playoff hero, acknowledged how helpful foster families were when he was a minor league player, given the cost of living in California. Having a foster family allowed him to focus on baseball.
However, Ishikawa also thinks it’s great for teams to provide housing now, as it reduces the number of stressors for players.
“It’s not something you need to worry about,” Ishikawa said. “You’re not worried about how far from the pitch, how you’re going to get to the pitch if you don’t have your car with you, things like that. So anything that will help focus on the baseball field will obviously be better.
Matt Paré, former minor league catcher for the San Francisco Giants and co-founder of Advocates for Minor Leagues, echoed that sentiment. While he acknowledges and acknowledges the generosity and hospitality of the host families, he also said that he sometimes felt like he was inconveniencing his host family due to different schedules and routines. He thinks having his own space as a player is something that would reduce worries.
“The organization should not only be responsible for accommodating these players, but it is in their interests to ensure that the [living] the conditions are optimal for them to perform on the pitch,” Paré said.
While Paré is grateful and has stayed in touch with his foster family since his days in San Jose, he said teams shouldn’t ask their fans that much.
“It comes from the generosity of the fans and their love of the game, the love of the sport, the love of the players,” Paré said of the cost of accommodation as a host family. “But ultimately, it shouldn’t fall on them.”
Harry Marino, executive director of Advocates for Minor Leaguers, said they found the use of foster families completely unacceptable.
“Billion-dollar Major League Baseball teams shouldn’t rely on the generosity of fans to ensure their players have a roof over their heads,” Marino said. “Minor league players are adults who want and deserve their own private living space.”
Paré said host families provide more than a roof over players’ heads, whether the costs are financial or otherwise.
“Any time you have someone staying in your house, there are costs that go with it – utilities, etc,” Paré said. “To have someone else in your house, in your personal space as well.”
Host families are often not financially remunerated, but in exchange they obtain various advantages such as subscriptions. Pereira recalled times when this came up throughout the bidding process.
“I had people calling and saying, Well, I want $900 a month,” Pereira said. “And I would say well, this guy makes $700 a month, which is why we want you to.”
Some families like to host players, regardless of the cost.
Tiffany Fuentes recalled reading an ad in the Mercury News and had a few extra rooms, concluding that accommodation would be something she and her husband Dan would be interested in. Their family has had about 15 host sons to date.
For them, hosting ball players requires minimal effort.
“We love baseball so it’s not an effort for me because we love the game and we love it more when we have a player on the field or on the team,” Tiffany said. “If there was an extra effort, it would be like staying up a little later at night after bedtime to cook, maybe not every night but some nights, [and] staying up […] just to see them because you don’t see them much even though they live in your house.
Dan said he would try to cook whatever the players liked and leave a plate in the fridge for them to eat after a game. Tiffany, who works at Costco, was asking players if there was anything she could get them from there. They helped players do different errands that players can’t do due to baseball’s busy schedule, but they also spent time socially, watching TV or having a barbecue together.
The Fuentes family has stayed in touch with most of their foster sons, including going to see them play when they make the major leagues. Pereira said host families were taken to a game in San Francisco once a year and “welcome San Jose Giants host families” was read on the scoreboard.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Dan said. “It’s very rewarding to watch them work hard in their chosen career.”
Dan thinks it would be nice if foster care became an optional choice in the future, a sentiment shared by Tiffany and Pereira.
“It’s a matter of survival at this level,” Pereira said. “These host families offer them not only accommodation, but moral support. Often a car. It’s just nice to look in the stands and see your host family sitting there.
Relationships established between players and host families can last the rest of a player’s career, and this element will be missing as the organization provides accommodation.
“I think the vibe back home is huge, because living with their teammates is kind of like you don’t get any break from baseball,” Tiffany said. “A big part of baseball is the mental part and the ability to relax and have a home-cooked meal and interact with people other than the people you see on the field every day.”