Missouri baseball player builds bond with summer host family

Monday, July 16, 2012 | 8:55 p.m. CDT

A 30-second radio advertisement convinced Richard McGannon of Redding, Conn., to open his doors and invite a complete stranger to stay at his family’s house for the summer.

At the end of the fall semester, a similar sales pitch from a coach persuaded Jake Ivory, a sophomore catcher for Missouri, to spend his summer in Redding and play summer ball for the Danbury Westerners of the New England Collegiate Baseball League.

Ivory is one of 17 Missouri baseball players devoting their summers to America’s pastime. Players participate in collegiate summer leagues to improve weaker aspects of their game and prepare for the next NCAA season. Although Ivory left his hometown of St. Charles excited to sharpen his skills on the baseball diamond, his summer has been highlighted by the formation of lifelong bonds with every member of his host family.

Upon arriving to his summer home, Ivory was shocked by the serenity of Redding, a town of just more than 9,000 residents. The rolling hills and deep valleys of the town puts Ivory a 15-minute drive away from steady cell phone service.

“It was like living a new life, being locked off from the rest of the world,” Ivory said.

The Midwestern native was a bit apprehensive of living in New England. Immediately, his host family made him feel at home.

“Since the first day, they took me in and treated me like part of the family,” Ivory said.

The McGannons and Ivory quickly found common ground through the game of baseball, a sport that bonds generations of the family.

“I would always go to old Yankee stadium with my dad,” McGannon said. “We’d leave early when the Yanks were down, and then, in the car ride home, we’d listen to him curse at the radio as we heard them come back in the ninth.”

Ivory has developed a special relationship with the McGannons' youngest child, Matthew. Matthew, 13, aspires to replace Derek Jeter as the next Yankees shortstop. The young ball player also plays pitcher. He has picked up helpful baseball hints and gained a new role model in Missouri’s catcher.  

“I think he looks at me like an older brother,” Ivory said. “He’s always asking a lot of questions.”

Ivory, who has experienced a few minor injuries throughout the summer, said Mr. and Mrs. McGannon care for him like his parents would, always reminding him to ice and get extra rest.

With two full-time baseball players in the house, Richard McGannon splits his free time attending his son’s and Ivory’s games. He said getting to watch Ivory play is one of the most rewarding parts of being a host parent. However, McGannon gets the most enjoyment watching Ivory and Matthew play together.

After watching last week’s MLB Home Run Derby, the McGannons hosted a contest of their own. Richard McGannon pulled out a pitching machine and some yellow Nerf balls. Under the moonlight, Matthew and Ivory spent hours bombing balls over the tall maple trees in their front yard. With the family dogs, Rocky and Kayla, retrieving the balls, they tested each other and competed to see who could hit their ball farthest past the playhouse.  

“It’s been a great experience, and I see myself keeping in contact with them for a long time to come,” Ivory said.

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