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‘No. 1 fan’ combines family with sport
Crinkled ticket stubs and faded game-day programs cling to a wall inside Mama Bear’s den.
There are autographed baseballs, splintered wood bats and sweat-stained hats. There are two extra-large-looking uniforms, newspaper clippings and team photos.
For Pam Hansen, the collection is simple but sacred.
“This guy used to call me the No. 1 fan,” Hansen said, pointing to an image on the wall of former Kitsap BlueJackets star Sean Greer. “And this guy, he’s the one who called me ‘Mama Bear.’”
The individual stories continue, varying in substance and length, but they eventually coalesce into Hansen’s passion: Kitsap BlueJackets baseball.
A resident of Bremerton, mother of two and self-proclaimed baseball nut, Hansen is the BlueJackets’ housing coordinator, a position she assumed for the 2009 season. Her job is to pair college-age players with area volunteer host families during the club’s summer-long season.
Hansen, who hosted a player in 2008, hasn’t missed a Jackets home game since 2006. She calls her unpaid job a “dream come true,” insisting the satisfactions outweigh the stress.
“If my kids ever had to go somewhere where they were going to be gone, I’d want somebody to take care of them. That’s why I like doing this so much,” she said. “When this opportunity came up I said, ‘I want to do it, I want to help.’”
The Jackets belong to the West Coast League, an eight-team summer collegiate baseball league comprised of teams from Washington and Oregon and players from all corners of the country.
Each summer, fifth-year Jacket coach Matt Acker assembles a roster mixed with both local and non-local talent. The 2009 club includes 16 players who attend out-of-state colleges and universities, including the University of Dayton (Ohio), the University of Southern California, Oklahoma State University, Texas Tech University and the University of San Francisco.
After their respective seasons and final exams conclude, the out-of-staters venture to Kitsap where host families and the summer baseball season await.
“I just want them to feel at home,” said Hansen, who is hosting the University of San Francisco’s Chris Escobar and Kelly Constantini. “I’ll cook dinner, and it’s there for them when they want it.”
This year, for the first time in the club’s five-year existence, there were more volunteer host families (12) than players to go around. As a result, Hansen was forced to turn a few families away, a duty she lamented because she “didn’t want to disappoint anybody.”
The process of matching players with families is relatively straightforward; Hansen receives a list of players and families, contacts them to ask about their likes and dislikes and eventually crafts suitable matches.
Host families, which receive free season tickets, are asked to provide their player (or players) a private room and one to two meals per day from the first week of June through the second week of August.
“It doesn’t matter how many hours or how many phone calls or how much e-mail (is required),” Hansen said. “It is a lot of work, but it doesn’t bother me because it’s gratifying.”
Some players live close enough to Kitsap to not require a full-time host family — Seattle, Tacoma and Green River — but may need a roof to stay under for a short stint. Sometimes the Jackets have six home games in as many days, and it’s simply easier for players to crash in Kitsap than to commute each day from the ballpark to their home.
“I don’t care if I wake up and there are two of them over there,” Hansen said, pointing to a couch tucked inside her modest living room. “I’d rather them be here than driving home late. Who wants to make an hour-and-a-half trip home, then turn right around and come back the next day?”
The coordinating workload coupled with the excess in host families means Hansen probably won’t host a player next season even though she’d love to, meaning her time with Escbobar and Constantini is precious.
The Bay Area duo drove together to Hansen’s home, about five minutes away from Lobe Fields at the Kitsap County Fairgrounds where the Jackets play their home games, in early June.
Escobar, a 20-year-old junior who was born in Stockton, Calif., is studying business, although his goal is to become either a Major League Baseball player or a firefighter, an occupation he’s admired since watching the film “Backdraft” when he was a kid. He platooned at third base and right field during his first two seasons at USF, but his natural position is middle infield, either second base or shortstop.
This is Escobar’s second stint with a host family, the first coming in 2008 when he played for the Wenatchee AppleSox and was named to the WCL All-Star team.
“I knew what I was getting into because I understood what a host family is,” he said of his second go-round. “If I wouldn’t have come with Kelly, it would have been a little easier to be comfortable and feel comfortable because I knew what I was getting into.”
For Constantini, 18, who is studying exercise and sports science to become a trainer or physician if his dreams of playing MLB don’t work out, the host-family experience is a first. He said the transition from college life to host-family life was fairly easy because he’s had a roommate in Escobar.
“Otherwise, I wouldn’t know anybody and I’d be living with a stranger,” said the soft-spoken Santa Clara, Calif., native who was forced to redshirt his recently completed freshman season at USF due to injury. “This summer, for me, is all about getting experience and practice and getting out there and pitching and working.”
When the duo isn’t busy with Jacket-related duties, Escobar and Constantini spend time away from the diamond with both their teammates and Hansen. They both said the slow-paced, easy living of Kitsap is a welcomed change from the bustle of San Francisco.
Hansen and Constantini have even developed a heated pool rivalry, with Constantini holding a perfect 3-0 record through Tuesday.
“I think he’s secretly a pro,” Hansen joked. “But there have been close games. I’ll get him.”
With the Jackets’ season running through the first week of August, Hansen said she looks forward to spending the next six weeks with her two live-in boys. The mother-turned-baseball-guru who also has earned nicknames such as “Mama” and “Auntie” plans to attend every Jacket game along the way.
No doubt which two players will receive the loudest ovation.
“It’s almost like they are my own kids. I love them like they are my own,” Hansen said. “I just hope they are happy, because I am.”