The Hoffman-Grace family may give any townies a run for their money on Sodbuster fandom.
More on that later.
Their support over the last three years has not only included beers, cheers, and chirps at tons of ball games. But perhaps more importantly, the family has welcomed players into their home for the previous three summers and will do it again in 2021.
Host families are a crucial piece to collegiate summer baseball. Everything the Sodbusters do revolves around their players. After all, there would be no baseball games without them.
Thus, a summer home is vital. Brian Hoffman, Kittie Grace, and their two daughters, Lyssa (13) and Ariana (10) , have provided that.
As season ticket holders in year one, the family initially did not house a player. That is until mid-season when the roster expanded and the team didn’t want players sleeping in the dugouts at Duncan Field.
The story of how the Hoffman-Graces came to host a player goes a little something like a pet adoption.
“I was totally pulled into it,” Grace said with a smile.
Grace was accompanying Ariana at church camp when Hoffman buzzed her phone with a photo absent of any context.
“I’m like, what is this?” Grace said.
“(Brian) is begging, ‘Can we please host? His name is Anthony, here are his stats.’ I have never seen this kid.
“He’s from California, he needs a home!” Grace imitated her husband.
Long story short, Hoffman got his wish. First-year Sodbuster Anthony Ortega moved into the family’s yellow home on University Avenue right around July 4, 2018.
The family typically throws a large gathering for the holiday, which is when Ortega had his introduction.
For the next month, Ortega lived in the basement with close to no privacy, Grace recalled.
“And the poor kid, we didn’t have a door on his room and there were two little girls in a playroom across from him,” she said. “Poor Anthony had no privacy.”
Since then, a door has been added and the girls, now older, have graduated to new hobbies.
Andrew Shaw, the left-handed pitcher the Hoffman-Graces hosted in 2019 and 2020, was a beneficiary of the installation.
While different, Ortega and Shaw were both great kids, Hoffman and Grace concurred.
“Shaw is really friendly and outgoing where as Anthony, when he was with us, it was doing homework for summer classes,” Hoffman said.
While not with the Sodbusters for a third summer, Shaw is playing elsewhere before pursuing a fifth college season with former Sodbuster coach Ryan McClaran at University of Maine thanks to the pandemic.
Ortega just graduated with his master’s degree from Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan., and accepted a coaching position there.
The family has kept in touch with both players since their departure.
They sent Shaw away with a gift.
“The biggest thing at the house at the end of the night is we’ll go home, pop popcorn in the Whirley maker and they think it’s the best thing,” Hoffman said. “At the end of the season, we’ll get a package sent to them and in there is a Whirley pop, some popcorn, some salt. Kind of like a going away gift.”
“Every time (Shaw) uses it, he sends a snapchat,” Grace added.
One of the best parts of hosting a player is when their family visits.
“It’s fun because they’ll come into town and we’ll host them in the house and they really have a good time with us,” Hoffman said. “We take them out to dinner; we show them Hastings.”
Plus, a misunderstood aspect of hosting is how little the players are actually around. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not a huge burden.
“Hosting is easy,” Hoffman said. “They get their meals (from the team) in the evening and most of the time they’ll go out and have lunch at Dally’s or wherever. And really, we ask at the beginning of the season about breakfasts and we get cereal or protein sandwiches, but they’re really easy to host. They do their own laundry, they’re self-managed because they’re in college and they’re adults.”
Hoffman did joke that as “host dad” he likes to sit with the players after the game and chat.
“We’d talk about highlights of the game and it’s a real dad moment,” Hoffman said.
This year, the family is hosting Jake Bigham, a second-year Sodbuster, which means more memories and another member of the household.
“You’re just part of the family at that point,” Hoffman said.