Baseball Families Let The Dogs In

Geoff Dankert
July 04, 2018 - 5:00 am

Paul and Kirsten Jepsen watch the Chicago Dogs from the stands. (WBBM Newsradio/Geoff Dankert)


ROSEMONT (WBBM NEWSRADIO) -- Right behind home plate at Rosemont's Impact Field, where the public-address announcer cheerfully points out that every day is “Fan Appreciation Day,” visitors will usually find Paul and Kirsten Jepsen cheering on the Chicago Dogs minor-league baseball team.

Paul Jepsen watches with the experienced eye of a man who briefly pitched in the Montreal Expos organization after leaving the Army in the 1970s.

“He’s throwing easy fastballs,” Paul observed while watching one team’s pitcher during a recent Tuesday night game. “There’s no movement on it.”

Kirsten, who plays 11-inch softball, enthusiastically joins in. “That’s gotta feel good for the pitcher after that inning,” she said after a defensive out.

The Hinsdale husband and wife are not just regular fans. They're one of several families hosting a Dogs player for the summer. 

“When Kirsten heard about the host family thing, she says ‘Hey, why don’t we host a ballplayer?’” Paul recalled. "I was like, what?”

The Jepsens’ connection to the Dogs actually began when Kirsten’s daughter met and married minor-league pitcher Kylin Turnbull, who’s playing for the Chicago Dogs in its inaugural season.

"When Kylin was also playing in the minors, he had to go to host families,” Kirsten said.

Rosemont's Impact Field (WBBM Newsradio/Geoff Dankert)

That knowledge inspired her to reach out to the team. "I always said, ‘Oh, that would be so cool (to do) if we were close to a team.’” 
Once the team began looking for host families, the Jepsens said the process was easy and included screening from the baseball organization.

Once that check was complete, the empty-nesters were matched up with relief pitcher Tyson Perez. 

“We’re enjoying him,” Kirsten Jepsen said of the onetime Houston Astros prospect, who’s one of a number of Chicago Dogs players hoping to impress a scout enough to propel him from the independent team to a club affiliated with a major-league organization.

"They’re legitimately looking for that second chance,” Paul offered. "They’re looking for that last opportunity.”

And that search can be difficult; most minor-league teams — especially at the independent level — offer relatively modest pay to players, who also don’t get the big-money endorsement deals of a Kris Bryant or a Yoan Moncada.

"It’s a financial burden for them in a lot of ways,” Paul said.

WBBM Newsradio/Geoff Dankert

Host families help ease that financial burden, while offering a supportive and relaxing environment for players fighting for a way in — or a last chance.

"You have to be open to just letting them be part of the family,” Kirsten said of the host-player relationship. “You don’t want to have to wait on them and they don’t want you to wait on them.”

In reality, Paul pointed out that the team’s travel schedule keeps Perez and the other players busy.

“They’re on the road half the time. When they’re home, they don’t come home until 11:30 (pm), 12 o’clock … (and) they get up, have breakfast and come back (to the ballpark).”

And for them, the experience has been relatively pain-free: “We’ve had four foreign exchange students in the past 11 years. Compared to that, this is easy.”

The Jepsens still have found time to bond with their houseguest, hosting cookouts for other players and loudly cheering Perez on from their season tickets -- another perk of being a host family.

"Tyson pitched three or four nights ago,” Paul recalled, "and we're like, “Come on, Tyson!” And you could see him crack a little smile during warmups.”

And they're already thinking ahead to the end of the season, when their house guest will likely move on. “We'll wish him well, we'll hope the best,” Kirsten said.

Paul added that “in a perfect world, he won’t come back,” meaning he’ll have been “called up” to a bigger team. "They’re adults, but yeah, they kind of are your adopted kids, you know?”

Most Chicago area minor-league baseball teams have host family programs. For more information, follow the links below:


Editor's Note: WBBM Newsradio's Andy Dahn contributed to this report.