Stoneman and Missus Page Went to the Ballpark
Congratulations to Mike and Lucinda Page on a job well done!
Couple goes extra mile to make Whitecaps’ foreign players feel at home in West Michigan
ROCKFORD, MI – Lucia Page wanders from her seat during a recent Whitecaps game and returns clutching two handfuls of hot dogs. Her husband, Mike, holds open a cloth bag where dozens of dogs are already stored, prompting a ballpark employee to ask if they’re feeding the entire neighborhood. “Part of it,” Mike responds. The hot dogs will be an easy snack for a small crowd of Whitecaps players. The Pages are used to feeding hungry athletes. For the past five years, they’ve hosted players from Venezuela, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, acting as their family away from home. Lucia, 58, born in Mexico and fluent in Spanish, helps break language barriers for players in a foreign country. Mike, 62, a serious baseball fan who plays vintage ball, makes them laugh with his jokes and attempts at Spanish. Together, the couple, married 33 years, provides a lasting sense of family. Years after players move on, they’re still Mike and Lucia’s “mijos” – Spanish for “my boys.” Tigers relief pitcher Brayan Villarreal is one of them. “I felt like I was with my mom and dad,” Villarreal said of staying at the Pages’ home in Rockford when he played for the Whitecaps in 2009. “I felt like that when I was there, and I still feel like (that).” Mike and Lucia have two adult children. It’s usually not long before they begin to see the host players, typically ages 18-22, as kids of their own. The start of a family The Pages’ Whitecaps family began when the empty nesters missed activity in their home. They had been buying Whitecaps season tickets for years. Mike, a part-time gallery guard for the Grand Rapids Public Museum, approached Lucia about the Keep-A-Cap host family program. Lucia, now retired from the State of Michigan, was working as a foster home licensor at the time and anticipated there would be expectations and transitions. She agreed to only one player. “I thought, you don’t want to be outnumbered,” she recalled. It didn’t take much for three young men from the Dominican Republic to change her mind at a host family mixer. One barely spoke English, so Lucia conversed with them in Spanish. It was clear the trio was bonded. “(Lucia) came up to me and said, ‘How about we host three players?’” Mike said. From that moment it was settled, and their family began to grow by two or three players each year. Moving in Once players move in, the first major hurdle is making them comfortable with the new living environment. There are bases to cover – such as administering Lucia’s mini driving test so those with a license can borrow the car. Basically, ‘Drive me to the park and back without scaring me,’ she tells them. If they don’t have a license, Mike or Lucia drives them to and from the ballpark daily. It all takes patience, Mike said, recalling when a player thought they had a garbage disposal and he had to clean a messy drain. And it takes laughter, Lucia said, especially when translating jokes from Spanish to English results in a fuddled mess. The players have many small, but important, requests that require Lucia’s help in Spanish, such as finding a barber who speaks the language. “Can you imagine me trying to do that in English?” Mike said. “Things like that, you can’t do it.” Players take English lessons at the stadium and the Pages offer encouragement when they notice their English improve. Mike claims his Spanish has improved, but Lucia politely shrugs her shoulders in response. “I’ll try to say something in Spanish and get it all wrong and they laugh,” Mike said. Lucia offers her language skills to other host families. “I’ve had players say, ‘I need you to explain this to my (host) family,” Lucia said. Courtney Galat, Whitecaps community relations coordinator, said the Pages’ contribution to the Keep-A-Cap program is huge. “They’re helping guys who might not be able to transition as well to the states. I feel comfortable sending guys there,” Galat said. The team’s roster can change weekly as players are traded throughout the Tigers’ farm system, she said. At times, close to half the team has been Spanish-speaking. “We get to know all the guys from other countries, even the ones we don’t host. They all call (Lucia) 'madre' anyway,” Mike said, referring to the Spanish word for mother. Their home has become the designated hangout. The Pages are known to host lively birthday parties for players – piñatas and pool time included. Frying empanadas until the early hours of the morning is welcome. The more the merrier, they say. Just make sure you turn the lights off when you’re done. “Everybody says it’s just like a piece of home,” Lucia said. Supporting their children Mike has always loved baseball (before a recent Whitecaps game, he had road tripped to Toronto earlier in the day to watch former host player José Ortega with the Toledo Mud Hens). Lucia admits she isn’t a fan of the sport. When she agreed to Mike’s idea of helping players who needed a home, she didn’t sign on to attend 70 home games a year. “I tried not to go to games, I really did. But I swear (the players) would gang up on me,” Lucia said. The first year, the guys roped her in with their tactic of one-by-one asking if she was going to the game that night. Eventually her “I don’t know” would turn into a “yes.” She goes to cheer on her boys. She said she realized they want someone there they can think of as being on their side. “You’re supporting your children,” Mike said. Each year the Pages make jerseys with the players’ names, and Mike flies their national flags in the front yard because “any piece of home they can see when they’re not home means a lot,” Lucia said. Their dedication doesn’t go unnoticed. Their current host players, starting pitchers Marcelo Carreno and Wilsen Palacios, both from Venezuela, recently surprised Mike with a pair of Reeboks that had belonged to Justin Verlander. Mike proudly wore the shoes, though a size too large, to a Whitecaps game. The couple says the players’ gestures of appreciation speak volumes and their thank-yous are heartfelt. “They are the ideal teenagers,” Lucia said. “It’s easy to give a thank you, but I think theirs is much more sincere because they’re in the middle of a foreign country and they’re a little more in survival mode than the rest of us." ‘See you next spring training’ As quickly as the Pages get attached, players can be traded. The first year they hosted Whitecaps, multiple players were promoted and demoted, and one was released outright. Sometimes the couple gets a call that they need to bring a player’s belongings to the ballpark that evening. One time, they didn’t know a host player was traded until he was pitching against the Whitecaps that day. “It’s hard to watch them leave during the season because it’s so unexpected,” Lucia said. But the Pages know it’s part of the game. They want their host players to advance. “But even then, it’s tough,” Mike said. Lucia and Mike voluntarily travel to Lakeland, Fla., every year for spring training. If the players remain in the Tigers farm system, it’s a chance to see them all in one place. “It’s not always goodbye. It’s usually, ‘See you next spring training,’” Lucia said.