One of the hallmarks of summer in southern Wake County is the return of the Holly Springs Salamanders to Ting Stadium.
In their fifth year of operation, the Salamanders are a part of the Coastal Plain League, one of the premier collegiate summer baseball leagues in the country. With 16 teams throughout Georgia, North and South Carolina, and Virginia, the CPL attracts top-notch players from colleges near and far.
Triangle residents are accustomed to fun summertime baseball, having the Durham Bulls and the Carolina Mudcats within easy distances, but the Salamanders are different in one big way.
“Every one of our teams require host families to house our players,” said Brian McConnell, Salamanders assistant general manager. “If we don’t have host families, we don’t have a team. … The importance of our host families can never be overstated.”
Since the Salamanders and other members of the CPL are NCAA athletes, they cannot be paid for playing baseball – which includes money for housing. So leaguewide, host families invite players to live with them for the season, usually Memorial Day through mid-August.
Requirements to host are minimal. A bedroom and access to a bathroom and laundry is all it takes, but most families go much further.
“We encourage the families to be involved. Most of our host families invite players to their family meals. They accept them as their summer son,” McConnell said.
The Sublett family of Apex will host their fourth Salamander this summer and their ninth player overall. Kim Sublett, her husband, Harold, and their children, Hunter, Holden and Kendall, got hooked on the experience while living in Fayetteville eight years ago. The CPL’s Fayetteville SwampDogs are based there.
“We were friends with the general manager of the SwampDogs at the time,” said Kim Sublett, adding that the family also had friends who were interested in hosting.
Holden and Hunter, then ages 4 and 11, were playing baseball, and as a self-proclaimed “baseball family,” hosting seemed like a natural fit.
“We’ve had players eat dinner with us. Some would go on trips with us to the beach,” she said. “When they have days off, we try to schedule something with them to interact.”
Players have enjoyed playing video games with Holden or going to the pool with the family, but with five or six games every week, the athletes are occupied most of the time.
“The majority of the time they are gone,” said Kim Sublett. “The players are either practicing at the field or away at games. By the time they get home after their game, we are asleep. When we are leaving the next morning, they are asleep.”
Still, the Subletts have built relationships with their student-athletes.
“Our first player really spoiled us,” she said, of Sal Giardina, who plays with the Gwinnett (Ga.) Stripers. “We had him for two summers in a row, and now he’s playing minor league for the Atlanta Braves. To be able to follow him through his career has been pretty phenomenal.”
McConnell says the team is always looking for host families.
“What a better role model than someone who is playing college baseball for (a child) that is playing little league and has dreams of playing major league baseball down the road. Having that role model right there in the home — it’s a good relationship for both of them,” he said. “It helps (the players) become better people too.”
Full schedule and tickets available at salamandersbaseball.com.