Host families: The backbone of the Kettleers

When you see a player on the field, on the mound, in the batter’s box or in the dugout, you might wonder how the Kettleers house them all.

The answer? Host families.

Host families live in Cotuit or the surrounding area and allow a player to live with them throughout the summer. Each player and host family fills out a form to make sure the pairing will work. The hosts are responsible for giving the players somewhere to sleep, feeding them and providing a place to do laundry. Having a stranger live in your house for a summer might seem strange, but they aren’t strangers for long. Sometimes the bonds between a player and a host family can last a lifetime.

That is certainly the case for Christina and Don Barley, who’ve remained in contact with former Kettleers player Pat Varni since he played back in the 1980s. Christina said former general manager Arnold Mycock called them after briefly chatting at a game.

“It was our first summer living on the Cape that we had gone to a game. We started talking to [Mycock] and we asked, where do these boys come from? How does this all work? Because we were totally unfamiliar with it. And he told us and we said, oh, that sounds really interesting,” Barley said. “The next thing we knew, we were getting a phone call saying we have a player coming from Texas. How would you like to host?”

Varni was added to the Kettleers roster late after being recommended by his college roommate Howard Prager, who was already on the team. Mycock and Prager went over to the Barleys’ house to talk them into hosting Varni, and after chatting for a bit, the Barleys agreed.

“I signed very late, literally like two days before the season started when I signed to go play up there,” Varni said. “When I first got there, I slept on Arnold Mycock’s couch for a few days. The Barleys were new to the area and it was their first summer there. They wanted to put up a player and I got put together with them and it was like a match made in heaven.”

Lisa Theoharidis started hosting players in 2007. She hosted former Red Sox player and current NESN analyst Deven Marrero in 2010 and had a wonderful experience.

“At the time, my very good friend was the housing coordinator. She was pretty desperate to find host families. So I said, look, if you can’t find anybody, I’ll be your last resort,” Theoharidis said. “So we ended up hosting that first year in 2007. Deven was our fourth baseball player that we had hosted. Every single young man who stayed at our house has been a part of our family. Hosting Deven was no different.”

Art or Photo Credit: Deven Marrero with Peter Theoharidis in the Kettleers dugout in 2010. Photo courtesy of Lisa Theoharidis.

Former Cotuit Athletic Association President Terry Moran wanted to host for a long time but did not have the space in his house. The Morans built an addition in 2012 and have hosted players since then, including catcher Caleb Lomavita in 2022 and 2023. Lomavita is expected to go early in the MLB Draft this July.

“He walked in with the smile Caleb has and we just all hit it off right away,” Moran said. “After the games every night, we’d have a sit-down dinner. That’s when we talk and really get to know someone. One thing I always ask players every year after a game is do you want to talk about it? Caleb’s answer to me was not really. He said the game’s over, I’m on to the next one. We never really talked about baseball over dinner. We talked about life, things he wanted to do, his family, all that sort of thing.”

Varni stayed in a room above the Barleys’ garage, giving him some privacy, but he still chose to hang out with the Barleys when he had free time.

“Pat arrived and we were comfortable with him pretty directly,” Barely said. “He had plenty of privacy, but he understood how our family functioned and what we expected of him in terms of that. We had a great summer, it was really one of the best summers of our lives.”

Varni said he also had a great time at the Barleys’ house that summer, becoming close with Christina, Don and their two daughters.

“They just made my experience up there incredible,” Varni said.“The time that I had, I would hang out with them. The girls would ask to clear my plate. They would allow me to invite players over.”

“We integrated him into our family,” Christina said. “One of the girls had a birthday party and he came to the birthday party and hung around with 13-year-old girls. He was like a big brother. If we went out to a family dinner, we included Pat and we paid for Pat. He really was like family.”

Theoharidis said that Marrero also integrated into her family and with her three kids immediately.

“He was here to do a job and that was to play the best game of baseball he could, but he would come home and he would giggle with the kids like it wasn't a big deal,” Theoharidis said. “He was a very humble kid. There was no real adjustment period because, with Deven, it clicked right away. We have wonderful memories with him and his family.”

Back when Varni was there in the 1980s, all of the players had to have a job. Don Barley got Varni a job as a receptionist at the Merrill Lynch office in Hyannis, where he was the manager.

“Don ran the Merrill Lynch office in Hyannis and I worked for him all summer,” Varni said. “I got to experience the business side of Don and he’s been very successful in his lifetime. That was the beginning of me realizing I was an OK baseball player and I might have to rely on something else in the business world. He gave me a great experience of that.”

Varni works in pharmaceutical sales and marketing, saying that his time working for Barley impacted his career.

“Not only did I make some really great friends and family members that summer, but I also learned some life lessons, especially towards what I need to do in the business world,” Varni said. “Don was very instrumental in and helped guide me and mold me.”

Theoharidis said that Marrero made a great impression on her after he volunteered for the Pan-Mass Challenge, a charity she has been involved in for the past 23 years.

“I ride in the Pan-Mass Challenge and my kids at the time were volunteers. They helped out at the Barnstable water stop and Deven said I’ll help out,” Theoharidis said. “So he joined my daughter and my youngest son and volunteered at the Pan-Mass Challenge. When you volunteer at the Barnstable water stop, you have to be up at 4 a.m. and get there at 4:30, and you basically make 1,000 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and pour Gatorade for 4,000 bikers. He loved every second of it. It’s just something that I was really proud and happy he chose to do, to volunteer for a cause that’s really special to me.”

Art or Photo Credit: Deven Marrero with Peter and Leah Theoharidis volunteering for the Pan Mass Challenge in 2010. Photo Courtesy of Lisa Theoharidis.

Moran said Lomavita is a dedicated baseball player, advocating to bring more baseball to his home state of Hawaii.

“He’s very caring about other people, very outgoing, very mature,” Moran said. “He was fun. He knew what had to be done and he led by example a lot of times.”

Besides getting close to Varni, the Barley family also became close with Prager, who spent time at their house. Christina and Don also became close friends with Prager’s parents, sharing how they met.

“They came up from Dallas that summer and we were one of the only families that had air conditioning,” Christina said. “Howard’s mom was very uncomfortable in the heat. We met them at a game and then Howard’s dad gave a Texas barbecue for everybody to attend at the home where Howard was staying. So we met his parents there. The next day, his mother showed up at my front door and she said I understand you all have air conditioning and I’d really like to come in and spend a few hours with you. And we became very close friends, probably two of our closest friends.”

Both Varni and Prager stay in touch with the Barleys. The family attended both of their weddings.

Art or Photo Credit: Suzanne and Pat Varni with Christina and Don Barley at the Varni's weddng in 1993. Photo courtesy of Christina Barley.

“We are still in touch with Pat,” Christina Barley said. “Howard’s son has been pitching in the World Series at Texas A&M. Howard went there to be with him and we got pictures and texts. We became very friendly with Howard’s parents.”

“They’ve always been involved in my life,” Varni said. “There’s not a time whether it's my birthday, or it’s Christmas time, or any holiday that we don’t touch base.”

Theoharidis said that she and her family are in regular contact with Marrero, getting a text from him when he got engaged. They were also invited to his mother’s house in Miami for Marrero’s draft party.

“The day of the draft, his mother, who lives down in Miami, invited us to the draft party she was hosting for him and we were just so touched,” Theoharidis said. “So I went down with my husband and my youngest son, so we could be there when he got drafted by the Red Sox.”

Moran keeps in contact with Lomavita often, recently sending him a picture of his Polar Cave ice cream, a favorite spot of Lomavita’s when in Cotuit. Moran also went to Phoenix this March to watch Lomavita and some other players they hosted play.

“The last weekend in March this year, we flew to Phoenix because Cal Berkley was playing at Arizona State and the Arizona Diamondbacks were also opening their season that weekend,” Moran said. “So we had Caleb and Rodney Green Jr. from Cal Berkley and we had two pitchers in the Diamondbacks bullpen, so we got to see four of the players who had lived with us. That was just a ball.”

Art or Photo Credit: Former Kettleers president Terry Moran (center) with Caleb Lomavita (left) and Rodney Green Jr. (right), who Moran hosted in 2023. Photo courtesy of Terry Moran.

Varni shared advice for those who want to be a host parent from the players' perspective.

“Be open-minded for who you’re taking in,” Varni said. “You don’t know much about them, but know that what you do and how you treat them can actually influence and change your life and change their life. I went there because I knew it was my next step into becoming a professional baseball player. What came out of it for me was absolutely an incredible experience, but on top of that, I have a new family.”

If you are interested in hosting a player, you can contact housing director Shelley Tomyl and read more information here.