by Niki Paton
June 18, 2006 - Northern League (NL) - Gary SouthShore Railcats
Father's day is a time when we look back on special moments spent as children with our fathers while camping, fishing or playing catch after an afternoon at the ballpark. Each experience brings with it a little fatherly wisdom and a lesson or two about life.
Gary RailCats' host parent John DeCoster's more memorable childhood experiences include watching greats like Hank Aaron at a 1954 Milwaukee Braves game with his father.
DeCoster, a resident of Valparaiso, Indiana, never had children of his own. DeCoster found an outlet for sharing his own fatherly wisdom in other ways with 5 nieces and 9 grand nieces and nephews.
What's more, DeCoster, who retired recently, has been a mentor to countless students during his 39-years teaching typing, computer and psychology courses at Portage High School in Portage, Indiana.
In the spring of 2003, DeCoster, also an ardent Chicago Cubs fan, visited the U.S. Steel Yard in Gary, Indiana for the first time. DeCoster came to support some of his Portage High School students as they played in the Gary SouthShore RailCats High School Baseball Challenge. By the end of the game DeCoster had chosen to become a RailCats' season ticket holder.
DeCoster attended the first few home games of the RailCats' inaugural season and before long the RailCats' organization contacted DeCoster about becoming a host parent for the new host family program. This meant he would open his home to a RailCats' baseball player.
DeCoster, also a landlord to college students in the Valparaiso area over the years, was comfortable with the idea of having company in his home. DeCoster also had one of the most important requirements the RailCats host family program required, a spare bedroom.
For the 2003 Northern League baseball season, a 23-year-old pitcher, Anasazi "Sazi" Guthrie became the first of ten RailCats players, over four seasons, for DeCoster.
"It was great," said Guthrie who reunited with DeCoster after returning to the RailCats as a free agent Friday for the 2006 RailCats starting rotation. "You can really tell he (DeCoster) enjoys the whole experience."
DeCoster enjoyed his experience with Guthrie in 2003 and signed on for the 2004 season. When the RailCats' host family program looked-for more families before the 2004 season, DeCoster approached his two sisters, Judy Meyers and Sharon McGill with the idea of joining the program as well.
"He (DeCoster) really makes the players comfortable in his home," said McGill.
Meyers and McGill joined the RailCats' host family program in May of 2004. The three siblings and their families have since become regulars at the U.S. Steel Yard.
Over four seasons, being a host father has had its memorable moments for DeCoster.
"I remember one morning finding someone (a RailCats' player) sleeping on the couch and another on the floor," said DeCoster. "They'd been playing Xbox and decided to stay all night."
At the beginning of the season, DeCoster also reunited with RailCats' pitcher Willie Glen, a returning part of the RailCats' starting rotation. Glen first called DeCoster's spare bedroom home when he joined the RailCats midway through the 2005 season.
DeCoster remembers supporting Glen and the RailCats during their winning series against the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks for their first Northern League Championship in September 2005.
"It was the culmination of their (2005 RailCats') careers," DeCoster said. "And fun to watch their reactions."
DeCoster's experiences as a teacher and uncle have afforded him many lessons to pass down. One lesson DeCoster learned as a host father, "It's another brick in the wall," said DeCoster. "Everything is temporary, take advantage of opportunities as much as you can, they may never come again."
That's one lesson everyone can appreciate.