Boys of summer: College Summer League baseball returning to Grand Park


When college summer baseball leagues were canceled last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Pro X Athlete Development President Joe Thatcher and Pro X Athlete Development Director of Operations Mark Walther organized their own summer league in a matter of a few weeks.

This year, the league will return and bring hundreds of players to the area, many of whom are staying with host families for the entire season, which runs from Memorial Day through July.

“This was thrown together last-minute last year during COVID,” said Thatcher, who played college ball at Indiana State University and Major League Baseball with the San Diego Padres, the Arizona Diamondbacks, the Los Angeles Angels and the Houston Astros. “College baseball seasons were getting canceled, college summer leagues were getting canceled, and so on a Zoom meeting, we said, ‘Let’s start a league for players only and give these college kids a chance to play and compete.’ We threw it together really quickly and we had over 275 players play last summer.”

The experience proved to Thatcher that there is an excellent opportunity for college summer leagues at Grand Park.

“We found that being out here at Grand Park and with Pro X and the combination of all the resources, we found a product we think can be a long-term product here for the community and we can get the community involved,” Thatcher said.

Thatcher said the league is different from others because it has a central location, and all eight teams will primarily play at Grand Park. College players aren’t taking long bus rides or staying in hotels to play.

“They can play here and train here and really be here for the entire summer,” Thatcher said. “Not having to travel is a big advantage.”

The league selected 225 players out of 500 applicants to form eight teams, which are led by college coaches.

The league’s main focus this year is to create a fan atmosphere.

“We really want to get the community engaged and the residents engaged,” Thatcher said. “It’s a great way for local residents to come out on a summer night and watch some baseball.”

Families that want to host a player for the duration of the league have an even greater opportunity for engagement.

“They’ll be with that family for the whole time. We lean on the families to provide somewhere to sleep, a bathroom, somewhere to hang out and do laundry and a place for the players to be able to cook themselves dinner,” Walther said. “We are not asking (the families) to provide food. The players are on their own for food. However, they are college kids, so if there’s an extra slice of pizza or hamburger thrown on the grill, they won’t turn it down.”

Thatcher stayed with several host families during his career and said he’s still in contact with some of them.

“I had a lot of different host families when I was playing baseball, and it’s a neat dynamic to have that kind of relationship,” Thatcher said. “If you have kids, especially young baseball players, it’s neat to open your house to adopt a player and come watch them play in the summertime.”

League play begins Memorial Day, May 31. Monday, Tuesday and Friday games will be played at Grand Park and Sunday and Thursday night games will be played at Championship Park in Kokomo. Tickets are $10 and can be purchased at the gate.

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A reason to host

Fishers High School head baseball coach Matt Cherry is one of the host families for the Grand Park College Summer League. Although he has never served as a host before, he lived with five host families when he played in summer leagues during his college career.

I wanted to give back and try our best to provide a positive experience for these current players like I had,” Cherry said. “The hope is that we are able to build a positive relationship where our player feels like he becomes a part of our family.”

Cherry said another reason he decided to be a host is because he is part of “a baseball family.”

“We have three children and are excited for our boys to be around an older baseball player and potential role model,” Cherry said. “Finally, God has blessed us with a home and space, and we feel led to use and share that space with the next generation. During my time with host families, I learned a lot about relationships and parenting, as those times gave me multiple experiences to add to what I knew about my own life, relationships and family dynamics.”