The Lasting Relationships Built Between Big Train Players and their Host Families

by Rekha Leonard

For two months over the summer, Lisa Whisenhunt’s house becomes a hub of activity with Bethesda Big Train players spilling out in every direction. Lisa, her husband Eric, and their 14-year old twin boys have been a Big Train host family for three years, and they love when their house becomes central station.


“The soundtrack of the summer is our ping pong table,” said Lisa. “The players are playing each other, they’re playing our sons. … It is so much fun having the guys there.”

Host families are an integral part of the Big Train operation. Players come from all over the country, leaving their homes and college towns to play for Bethesda. They are welcomed into the homes of community members, and more often than not they form a lasting bond with their bonus family.

“It’s kind of like a little family that we have,” said infielder Jack Guerrero (James Madison), who is living with Lisa’s family this summer. “I don’t have any brothers, so it’s good to have Walker and Wyatt in the house. Ms. Lisa is the best, and Eric is the best. It’s just a great time living there.”

This year, 31 Big Train players were paired with 20 different host families, 16 of which are returning hosts. Big Train host family coordinator Amy Matush organizes the enterprise, finding families and matching them with players. She recruits mainly through word of mouth, so local listservs are her primary tool. Sometimes, the word comes directly from kids, who are Big Train fans and convince their parents to let members of their favorite team come live with them.

“We get some families from player camps, so kids will go to camp and really fall in love with the players and they’ll go home and tell their parents and their parents will call and be like, ‘We want to host a player.’ That’s sort of the best way to get them,” said Amy.

Many host families, whether or not they are convinced to sign up by their young campers, have kids in the house. And those children can benefit from having a bonus older brother to look up to.

“(The players) are very good influences. They’re good role models,” said Amy. “Just to see the discipline, even if it’s not baseball, they’re disciplined, they get up, they work out, they come (to the field), they play, they come home, they eat, they go to bed. They really are good kids, and it’s great for the little ones to see to that.”

In order to create the best familiar relationships possible, Amy takes plenty of factors into consideration when making the pairings. She has each family and each player fill out a questionnaire and uses that information to guide her. The main areas she takes into account are allergies, whether or not players have a car, and putting college teammates together.

This year, two former host family coordinators helped Amy make these matches behind the scenes. The trio put every player on a sticky note and played an old school matching game, placing each sticky note with a family until they got it right.

“Big Train's host family coordinators, past and present, have built a legacy in the Bethesda community,” said Big Train manager Sal Colangelo. “The host families are the heart and soul of our Organization. These relationships will last forever. The tradition has been continued on by Amy Matush.”

The player-family matches are designed to put both parties in the best possible situation. Host families typically reach out to the players’ parents as well, assuring them that their sons will be well taken care of with the Big Train.

“(Player’s parents) are putting their faith in us the same way host families are putting their faith in the players that are coming,” said Amy. “A lot of times this is their first summer away from home, so we just want to make sure that the families of the kids who are coming have some sense of comfort too.”

Host families not only give players a place to stay, they give them the support of a bonus family. And both sides reap the rewards through their lasting relationships. 

To learn more about becoming a host family click here.