CLINTON – Every once in a while, after the last out on a Sunday afternoon game, the LumberKing players don't just leave the stadium and go home.
Instead, they head to a cleared out picnic garden where the Board of Directors for the Clinton LumberKings has set up a buffet line of pasta salads, cheesy potatoes, chicken and fruit. The board members – with the help of their families –have a warm, home-cooked meal waiting for them after their game.
It is a tradition for the board to put these on about once a month during the players' stay in Clinton.
"They hear the word food, and they turn around and say 'Where?'," Clinton skipper Denny Hocking said.
It's true that the food is good, but it's a little more than that. Clinton is a community owned ballclub, so getting to know the players that come through here is an important thing.
"That's something that's really unique about Clinton is that we don't really have an owner .. we're all kind of owners of the team. We've worked very hard over the years to keep baseball in Clinton," said past-president of the board and current board member Ed Kross. "I like the food and sitting and talking to the players. We find out a little more about their backgrounds and where they're from and where their family is."
Hocking wanted to see that immersion from his team, and he did. You could see Dimas Ojeda talking with Ed Kross on one end, and that's the kind of thing he wants.
"By biggest fear is walking out and seeing all the players huddled up--I'd like them to move around a little. I noticed some of the players were sitting with members so that's nice," Hocking said. "I know when these things happen I know my biggest job is to spend a few minutes at each table. They want to know what's going on and what's behind the scenes."
Hocking certainly made the social rounds, talking both baseball and just life with board members and their families.
One of the highlights for the board is the end of the evenings, when the athletes make their way to every wooden picnic table to send an eclectic flurry of "Thank ya'll for the food" and "It was so great, thank ya so much" to the members.
It's a genuine and courteous response that comes whether they shutout the other team or were shutout themselves. Character is something Hocking touts.
"It's super important because as much as they train to get themselves to get to the big leagues, we're also trying to train them to be good people, have values, have accountability and responsibilities," Hocking said. "Events like this is no different than asking them to go do an event at a school or something like that. Being a part of your community is super important."
It's a really pleasant way for the board and players to take a break from the game on Sunday afternoons and just enjoy the fact that they have a supportive club and supportive community. From conversation to cheesy potatoes to Lydia Halbach's homemade ice cream, it's something the board members truly enjoy doing.
"I think we enjoy doing it because it gives us a chance to meet some of the players and also get them a homecooked meal as it were," Kross said. "It's been a tradition that we've done for years and years and years and I know I really enjoy it … I think it's a good thing that we do."