Farm team ballplayers learn from pros about the game of life

May 15, 2019

Residents of St. Paul's senior community take fandom to heart

By KEN LEISER

Starting pitchers Brailyn Marquez and Eury Ramos of the Class A South Bend Cubs will spend their nights and leisure time this summer surrounded by adoring fans — who just happen to be more than three times their age.

St. Paul's residents and South Bend Cubs
South Bend Cubs pitchers Eury Ramos, left, and Brailyn Marquez in April with St. Paul's senior community resident Russ Andrews. Ramos and Marquez will live at St. Paul's this season.

During the first week of April, the two players moved into adjoining studio apartments at the Saint Joseph Health System St. Paul's senior community in South Bend, Ind. Team members have lived rent free at St. Paul's during each of the past four minor league seasons.

Marquez, 20, is a lanky left-handed pitcher in his second season with the South Bend Cubs. He is from Santo Domingo, the Dominican Republic's capital city. Ramos, 21, is in his first full season with the South Bend team and is from Guananico, Dominican Republic.

"Each year, our residents look forward to welcoming these players into their lives, rooting for them, and watching them grow and develop in the game of baseball and life," said Linda O'Neill, vice president of operations at St. Paul's Trinity Health Senior Communities.

Resident Jerry Berntsen, a retired State Farm insurance agent who has lived at St. Paul's for nearly 14 years, confides that he was a Chicago White Sox fan but switched his allegiances to the Cubs in South Bend. During the season, he underlines articles in the sports section of the South Bend Tribune for the young athletes at St. Paul's.

Farm Team Ballplayer
Brailyn Marquez is a pitcher in his second season with the Class A South Bend Cubs. South Bend Cubs

"We share a lot of things here and we toss around jokes and occasionally we go to the ballpark to see the games as well," Berntsen told Catholic Health World. "We're like grandparents to them. They're like part of the family."

Joe Hart, president of the South Bend Cubs, stressed that some players have come "a long way from home" to play for the team. Ramos and Marquez are playing this season more than 1,800 miles from their Caribbean nation.

Some of their teammates on the minor league affiliate of the Chicago Cubs hail from Mexico and Venezuela.

"I've felt very comfortable at St. Paul's in my first couple of weeks there," Marquez told the South Bend Cubs' media staff. "It's really fun to be around the residents and I've definitely wanted to give them all of the respect they deserve."

Immediate vacancy
The multigenerational experiment began quite by accident during the 2016 season, when former South Bend Cubs pitchers Carson Sands and Craig Brooks both needed a place to live. St. Paul's had a vacancy at the time. Hart talked to the players by phone.

"They were looking for a place," Hart told WGN TV of Chicago. "I said, 'I think I've got a place for you, but you've just got to have an open mind.' And I kind of explained it to them. There was a little bit of silence on the other end of the phone at first. And then they're like, 'Yeah, we're in. We'll do it.'"

St. Paul's residents
St. Paul's residents, from left, Ed Belinski, Joe Catanzarite and Joe Zappia attend a South Bend Cubs home game in 2018 with community life aide Lindsay Crum, back row center, and Ruth Metcalf, community life director.

The summer accommodations at St. Paul's became an instant hit among players, Hart said. "The guys who get the pleasure of living at St. Paul's always walk away from the experience with great stories and their lives changed for the better."

Michael Mosher, housing administrator at St. Paul's, said when St. Paul's residents go to a home game they sit as a group and cheer on their player-neighbors. St. Paul's prints T-shirts so players can more easily spot their neighbors in the stands.

"To have a section of fans rooting for them, where the other players on the team don't have that, it makes us stand out, it makes them stand out," Mosher said.

Melanie Hoefle, director of sales and marketing at St. Paul's, said the staff puts together a social schedule during the season that gets the players together with residents at least three times a month. Events this season will include a party celebrating the food and music of the Dominican Republic.

There will be cookouts and private luncheons so small groups of residents can get to know each other, discuss families, "and to talk about baseball of course," she said.

When players move in, the staff places a sign out by the road that reads: "St. Paul's — where the South Bend Cubs call home." It has the resident players' names and jersey numbers on it. Posters of the two players hang in the front reception area.

One player's experience
Chris Singleton, one of the two South Bend Cubs who lived at St. Paul's during the 2018 season, recalls the experience fondly. An outfielder when he was playing baseball, Singleton now directs community outreach for the Charleston, S.C., RiverDogs, a minor league team.

Singleton
Singleton

"It was great," said Singleton, who often found himself asking St. Paul's residents about their lives, their experiences. "They had so much wisdom. I really picked their brains."

Singleton recalled one of his fellow residents at St. Paul's telling him about how he married his future wife after dating for only a month. The couple remained married for more than 50 years until her death.

Singleton said he got a particular kick out of a man who gave him batting pointers. Singleton had gotten off to a slow start at the plate during the 2018 season. The man suggested Singleton try to bunt — the act of placing the bat in front of a pitched ball — more often to get on base. Singleton didn't take the advice, but he did rebound and enjoyed "a pretty solid last month of the season."

Singleton predicted that the experience of living at St. Paul's will leave a lasting positive impression on Marquez and Ramos, just as it has for him.

 

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