WINDERMERE — The six houseguests staying with Kevin and Kim Cook this summer often leave in the morning and return late at night.
Far from being rude, this schedule is expected.
The Cooks, along with their younger daughter, Ann Marie, are sharing their beautiful Keene’s Pointe home with five players from the Winter Garden Squeeze and one of the team’s coaches. As a host family for a second consecutive year, the Cooks have welcomed college baseball players from around the country. As part of the deal, the players and coach are given a place to sleep, along with access to the kitchen, restrooms, living room and, yes, even Kevin’s immaculate game room.
For the Cooks, it’s just one way for them to share their own blessings with others.
“We feel very blessed,” Kim Cook said. “To see the house filled with young people having fun — we feel like it’s as much a blessing to us as it is to them.”
P.J. Garcia (Vernon Regional), Mason Fryman (Shelton State), Luis Rivas-Lastra (Vernon Regional), Rogelio Sanchez (Vernon Regional) and Davis Dunn (Shelton State) are the players staying with the Cooks, along with Tony Perez, an assistant coach staying with the family for a second summer.
In 2014, the team’s first season in the league, Perez was joined by Taylor Becerra, Miguel Ceballos, Zakariah Felix, Andres Leal and Daniel Portales with the family.
Of course, the experience as a host family for the Squeeze is not the first such experience for the Cooks.
In the summer of 2006, when a different college summer league was in town and their older daughter, Arla, was still living at home, Kevin and Kim took in a total of nine players for the Orlando Hammers — a faith-based summer team.
Just this past spring, the family hosted a few players and their spouses in town for spring training for the Atlanta Braves’ minor-league teams.
Kevin Cook said part of the reason their home is set up the way that it is — with its movie room and game room and other inviting features — is to have it serve as a place where impressionable young adults would like to hang out in a positive environment.
And, although the names and faces have changed through the years, one thing hasn’t: Kevin Cook is still the undefeated champion of the foosball table, and the guests are still grateful for their hospitality.
“It’s really wonderful to be back,” Perez said. “The Cooks are such wonderful people — I’m blessed, and the kids that are staying with the Cooks this summer are blessed. … You’ve got people who are willing to take young men into their home, embrace them and become friends.”
The Cooks fondly reminisce about each summer they have hosted baseball players, dating back to 2006 with the Hammers — a summer from which they have a scrapbook full of photos readily available.
“We still keep in touch with a lot of those guys — we’ve been to a couple weddings for those guys,” Kevin Cook said, recalling that he, Kim, Arla and Ann Marie had gone to nearly every game that summer. “They (the Hammers) kept losing all these games, and we felt like we wanted to be there for their first win.”
The Cooks traveled a good amount last summer and didn’t attend quite as many games for the Squeeze as they had in 2006 with the Hammers. Still, despite their travel obligations, they hosted — exhibiting a large level of trust in having the players stay at the home even while they weren’t in town. The Cooks said they have yet to have a bad experience as hosts and, with less travel on the calendar for this summer, have been to many of the team’s games in 2015.
Kim Cook, who remembers going to baseball games often with her father when she was a child, said part of the fun is getting to know the young men staying with them and then getting to go see them perform on the diamond.
“The vested interest in the players, I think that’s kind of what’s fun about it,” Kim Cook said.
So far, the houseguests at the Cook household have enjoyed their stay.
“I like it a lot,” said Garcia, who is going through his first host family experience, said. “I think it’s better than just going off to college and being on your own. … Kim prepares us a meal every day.”
As the eldest among the houseguest bunch — and the only coach — Perez said spending the summer with the young ballplayers helps keep him feeling young, and he enjoys observing as the players bond. The experience can be important, he said, because if these players — who are all aspiring to greater heights within the game — are successful in obtaining a professional career in the minor leagues, there likely will be more host family experiences awaiting them.
“You make friendships and you build these bridges that could last a lifetime,” Perez said. “It’s real important because they need to learn to interact and to be comfortable with people that are from a different background or are from a different location. … If they’re lucky enough to sign a pro contract, there’s no telling where they’ll end up.”
It’s a reality Garcia acknowledges.
“I don’t know if you’ll find a better family than what Kim and Kevin have been to us,” he said.
Contact Steven Ryzewski at [email protected].