It wasn’t a talking lion advertisement or incredible low prices that struck Joe Hudak as he walked across the Food Lion grocery store parking lot last week. It was a message from God.
Hudak launched a Fellowship of Christian Athletes-sponsored summer league baseball team for college players – the Piedmont Pride – but was struggling to find ways to house his players, who arrive May 26. Traditionally, teams in the Cape Cod League, Coastal Plains League or any number of other organizations utilize host families to provide housing for players over the summer.
“When I first started trying to find host families, a lot of people said they’d love to help, but ‘we’re gonna be out of town this week, out of town that week.’ A lot of families were interested, but I couldn’t nail down a lot of them,” said Hudak, whose first-year team will play in the Southern Collegiate Baseball League.
Faced with a shortage of housing for his Piedmont Pride players, Hudak mulled over the possibilities as he headed to the grocery store.
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“I’m walking in, and a car backs out right in front of me,” said Hudak. “It has a sticker on the back that says ‘stay calm and trust God.’ Did I need to hear that or what? So I just thought, ‘well, I’m gonna do that.’”
His spirit inflated, Hudak came up with an idea.
He reached an agreement with Winthrop to allow the Piedmont Pride players to stay at one of the school’s dormitories. That’s a solution that wasn’t in the team’s budget, so Hudak created the Piedmont Pride Foster Family Club. The “foster family” essentially sponsors one or two of the team’s players for the summer by making a completely tax deductible $500 donation to the FCA no later than July 1, money that will be used to pay for the players’ housing at the school. The family will also support the team by attending games and providing a few home-cooked meals for their adopted Pride players.
“Wednesday night I typed up the email, sent it out Thursday morning and already have 10 foster families,” said Hudak. “We need 26.”
For its efforts the foster family receives four season tickets, one Piedmont Pride hat, or two t-shirts, a 25 percent discount on all purchases from the team store and recognition at home games. There is also a level of support called the Piedmont Pride Partner Club, which amounts to a $200 donation to FCA, or one meal for the team and coaches.
“I think it’s a way for people in our community to support these guys, because we’re not like a regular summer league team that just comes to play ball,” said Hudak. “We’re gonna play ball, but we’re also gonna give back.”
The Pride will play 40 league games, with its home contests at Winthrop Ballpark, where Hudak coached the Winthrop Eagles for 19 years. The team will also conduct mission work around the Rock Hill area to better the community and spread the gospel. Hudak said the team will work with Habitat For Humanity and the Boys and Girls’ Club, and conduct clinics for local youth. Additionally, a mission trip to the Dominican Republic is slated for the end of the summer.
“For me, I’ve had two big loves in my life outside of my family – my faith and baseball,” said Hudak. “This gives me a chance to combine both of them.”
Hudak used his networks from a lengthy college coaching career to put together a roster. He started in December, about a month after many Coastal Plains and Cape Cod league teams already have the nucleus of their roster set. The players come from all over, from all levels. Fort Mill’s Jaden Savage, who plays at USC Upstate, and former Lewisville Lion Christian Cok (Randolph Macon College) are the two players with a local connection.
“We want to try to help them develop, that’s why kids play summer ball,” said Hudak. “But also we want to help them grow as young men and hopefully grow in their faith.”
Bret McCormick • 803-329-4032; Twitter: @BretJust1T
Pride opens SCBL season June 1
The Piedmont Pride opens its inaugural season June 1 against the SBA Bones at Charlotte Christian High School. The Pride’s home opener at Winthrop is June 3. Tickets cost $5. Check http://piedmontpridebaseball.com/schedule for the team’s full schedule. For more information about sponsoring or hosting the team’s players for the summer, email email@example.com.