Growing up in Grand Junction: The first step toward the Colorado Rockies
By Kevin Henry
One of the unique parts of the Grand Junction Rockies organization are the host families. These local families open up their homes to these new professional players who arrive in Grand Junction with their entire career ahead of them. While they’re only required to give them a place to sleep, a safe environment and some form of transportation back and forth to the field, there is much more that goes into the experience than that.
Mike and Shannon Sneddon have been a key part of the host family experience in Grand Junction since the team arrived here in 2012. Among the players who have stayed with them are Raimel Tapia, Brendan Rodgers, Dom Nunez and Sam Hilliard. That’s a good lineup, but that’s not why the Sneddons do this.
“We’re both big sports fans,” Mike said. “Our boys played baseball and our daughter played softball. When our kids got older and moved out of the house, we were bored. We decided when this came in, this would get us back in the game and get us with the players. We could do the things we love to do.”
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The Sneddons have hosted two to three Rockies rookies every year. The first year the Sneddons took part in the host family program, all three of the players they hosted were released by the Rockies.
“Are we bad luck? Should we do it again? We’ve lost a couple but even the ones that aren’t in the organization still keep in touch with us,” Shannon said. “One of our former players is now in training for the Army Ranger program. I got a text that said, ‘Hey Mom, I traded in my bat for a rifle.’ That’s all he said. It gave me goosebumps because you know you made a difference in their lives.”
Shannon said the thing that often gets lost in the first season of professional baseball is that these are often young men who have never really been away from home. They’re not only adjusting to becoming a professional athlete but doing it in a city and location they most likely have never been.
“We had one turn 19 while he was with us. That was hard on his mom. It was her first birthday away from him,” Shannon said. “We’re taking pictures and asking what they want for their birthday. The request was for pizza, a Dairy Queen ice cream cake and for six of the players to come over.”
“The business environment is hard enough,” Mike added. “It’s crucial for them to have a home environment. Next year, at Class A, they’re on their own. They have to do everything. Now, they can come back to something stable with a host family and they’re not thrown completely out there.”
Shannon makes snack bags for her boys for the long road trips between Grand Junction and Montana. Mike sits down and talks to them about those kids who hang out with them who might not have their best interest in mind and other sometimes tough topics. Yes, it’s very important for all parties that these new players have the influence of a mom and dad in Grand Junction.
“They’re still kids. It’s hard on them,” Shannon said. “We have one host mom who is retired. Whatever her boys want after the game, she’s fixing it. It doesn’t matter if she grills a steak. She loves to do it.”
The Sneddons say there are rules that are expected to be followed in their house. All they ask is that and respect.
“Here’s a truck for you to drive,” Shannon said of the small farm truck they let their players use for transportation during the season. “You keep it filled with gas. If you wreck it, you fix it. The house is open. If you want to have friends over that’s fine. Just respect us. Don’t party until 3 or 4 in the morning.”
“If you can talk about baseball and love it, that brings out conversations with these players,” Mike added. “We’ve had a couple of circumstances we have had to bring to their attention but we talk about it. Some of them may have never been talking to about certain situation. We’re firm believers that if they’re going to be professionals, they need to know how to speak to and act with people appropriately.”
Players are grouped together based on two simple things when plans start being made in February for the upcoming season: Position on the team and pet allergies. With pitchers and fielders having different times for workouts, it makes sense to have these two groups together when possible.
“Our first year, we had a pitcher and infielder,” Shannon said. “If they’re driving a vehicle, one would have to constantly go with the other because they needed the transportation. It takes more gas and being on the road every day isn’t good to give them down time when they need it.”
The short season has just started in Grand Junction. The toughest part of the Sneddons’ job will come, just like it does every season.
“For me, it’s saying goodbye,” Shannon said. “We’ve had some many people say to us, ‘We wish we could do something like this.’ These are boys that we’ve raised. These are boys that we fed and helped do their laundry. He’s one of my kids. That’s how we look at them.”
“This is a family. It really is.”