Turn off the “Murder, She Wrote,” dude, we have to go to practice.
Three Wenatchee AppleSox players — pitchers Vaughn Berberet and Andrew Rohrbach, as well as outfielder Joey Jansen — are currently living in the Bonaventure of East Wenatchee, which is a retirement home, where the residents are an average of “like 85 years old,” according to Berberet.
This is the second year the Sox have sent players to the Bonaventure instead of setting them up with host families, which is the more typical home-life experience for the players.
The idea started when owner/general manager Jim Corcoran saw a story on ESPN about a minor league player who had a similar setup.
“It was great, but I wasn’t sure about it, because the guy in the video was a little older and we were talking about kids right out of high school,” Tammy McCants, host family coordinator, said. “But we said, ‘let’s go for it.’ And it’s turned out to be a wonderful marriage.”
The guys live in their own apartments in the building, are fed three times a day, and get to build friendships with people who share their love of the game.
“The kids like it, because they get food and 200 grandparents basically,” McCants continued. “People are baking them stuff, and the Bonaventure will leave them plates of dinner in the fridge. It really works out for them. At first, we were only going to do one player, but both wings (of the building) fought so much about who was going to get the player that they ended up getting two players.”
Despite the huge age difference, the arrangement among the players and the old folk works because of the mutual love for the nation’s pastime.
“Overall I’d say it’s a terrific experience on both sides,” Bonaventure executive director Katie Sitton said. “Their common interest is baseball, we have huge baseball fans here. They learn from their differences and share through baseball.”
Berberet wasted no time making friends with his living mates.
“There’s this guy named George who I met the first day I was there,” the lefty from California said. “He’s the most die-hard AppleSox fan there by far. He’s always wearing a Sox hat, he has one in every color, every style you can imagine. That dude will talk to you about the Sox for forever.”
Berberet said that there is a competition between the players about who will become the favorite among the residents.
“I’ve heard that they make bets on both the players and the whole place divides into two sides on who they like more,” Berberet said. “They read up on how we do. But, we get back from games and they’re all asleep at like 6:30, so we only really get to talk to them when we eat.”
While Berberet notices that the residents go to sleep a little early, Sitton says the residents, conversely, have sleep-schedule complaints of their own about the players.
“We’ve joked that the residents keep track of them, so it is like living with their grandparents,” Sitton said. “They know when they come and go, they keep track of them. They keep up with their stats. The residents notice that they stay out later, and they say, ‘well they aren’t here yet.’ A few of them want to make sure they get home safe before they go to bed.”
The early collective bedtime did prove to be a bit of an issue for Rohrbach when he first arrived to North Central Washington. The soon-to-be Gonzaga Bulldog walked to the store in the early evening of the first night he was here, not realizing that he should’ve grabbed the access fob from Berberet before departing.
“I walked through the first of the two doors (upon returning), and the first one opens and the second just doesn’t move,” the hard-throwing righty remembered. “I walk back out, and walk back in. Thinking, ‘why isn’t this opening?’ I’m waving my hands, knocking and there’s a press-for-help button, and I was pressing that for probably about 30 minutes until I just gave up and thought, ‘I’m never getting in this place.’ ”
Rohrbach was eventually allowed access that night and has had fostered some nice relationships of his own during his stay. He even said that he and the players are picking up some new lingo from his hallmates.
“There’s one lady, who every morning tells us she’s from Detroit, she knows the Detroit Tigers, and we’ve heard the story a million times,” Rohrbach said. “And instead of saying, ‘oh my gosh’ — or something like that — she says, ‘oh my stars,’ and me and Vaughn crack up about it. So now we’ve replaced saying ‘oh my gosh,’ or ‘oh my God,’ with ‘oh my stars.’ ”
The AppleSox players aren’t the only ones who are getting something from the experience. Corcoran says one of his favorite stories is when one of the players who stayed at the Bonaventure last season had his parents visit.
“His mom said a little old lady came up to her and said, ‘I want you to know that your son has single-handedly restored our faith in youth,’ ” Corcoran recalled. “The mom had tears in her eyes telling the story.”
And, don’t worry about the rambunctious young men keeping their elders up at night, Berberet suspects the residents have a way of handling that.
“They sleep like rocks,” he said. “I play music and video games as loud as possible and they aren’t hearing it. I think they all take their hearing aids out at night.”
During the hours when the hearing aids are in, Berberet said he tries to stay out of any inter-resident conflict.
“There have been people who argue about others’ TVs being too loud, but the hallway I live in, everyone’s TV is on full-blast,” he said. “So they ask me, ‘what do you think? Is that TV too loud?’ and I always say, ‘I can’t even comment on that.’ ”
There is a common TV room filled with DVDs — “So many Clint Eastwood movies” — for the residents, but Berberet and Rohrbach both said that their favorite social activity is having a good old-fashioned conversation. Berberet, who describes himself as a “big World War II buff,” said he tries to seek out as many stories about the era as possible, and says his favorite moment so far was when he was able to pick the brain of an ex-fighter pilot who was forced to crash-land and then had to find friendly territory.
“It was one of the better conversations I’ve had because I’ve watched so many shows on the dogfights but have never heard a firsthand story from somebody who actually did it,” he said. “I learned so much, all over like three cups of coffee one morning.”
According to Sitton, the residents absolutely relish the opportunity to try their stories on a new, receptive audience.
“You can just see them smiling from ear-to-ear,” Sitton said. “They’re enjoying each other’s stories, they’re enjoying the interactions. No question they bring a positive light to our group, and vice versa.”
The only real point of contention between the residents and their retirement-housemates is what the temperature should be.
“They’re always complaining that it’s cold,” said Berberet, “even though it averages 80-freaking-billion degrees in there.”