This summer will arguably be one of the biggest in Dalton Hoiles' baseball career.
The Spring Grove grad and Shippensburg University standout, who just completed his sophomore year, was invited to play for the Butler BlueSox in the Prospect League, one of the top wooden-bat college developmental summer leagues in the country. How Hoiles performs over the next couple of months could ultimately determine any post-college pro baseball dreams.
So, the last thing he would seemingly need to worry about is if the regular bingo games that he takes part in are on the level.
"The exact text message that they sent me was, 'We think the game was rigged because we didn't win a damn thing,'" said Gary Renwick, the executive director at Newhaven Court at Clearview. "I kind of lost it because I thought that was super funny."
If this summer is so vital to Hoiles' baseball career, why on earth would he be spending his free time playing bingo?
In short, because what else do you do when you live at an assisted living facility?
Living among seniors: When Hoiles and fellow Raiders teammate Jake Kennedy were presented with the opportunity to play in the Prospect League this summer, it was one they simply couldn't let pass.
It would be a chance for members of the NCAA Division II program to play against some of the most talented college baseball players from across the country, even those that play at the Division I level. The unique aspect of the Prospect League is, since players come from all over the place to play for teams located in the eastern and mid-western part of the country, teams employ host families to house the athletes during the summer.
It all started last summer when Renwick and Newhaven Court at Clearview, a yearly sponsor of the BlueSox, approached the team about becoming a housing option for players. While the living accommodations were taken care of last year, the league kept the assisted living center in the fold for possibly housing some ballplayers this summer.
In the case of Hoiles and Kennedy, there weren't any single families available to host them for the summer league, so they were given an alternative option — live in the assisted living center.
"Jake and I knew we were coming to the same summer league and we wanted to live together because we didn't know any other teammates on the team," Hoiles said. "So, we just wanted to room together since we knew each other and the coach sent out emails saying we were going to be living at an assisted living center and we didn't know what to think about it when we got here."
Local celebrities: It may not have seemed like a great situation, living among strangers who could be your grandparents and great-grandparents, but the two baseball players are treated like celebrities.
When they arrived, the center had a banner welcoming them, and a few weeks later, once they were settled, Hoiles and Kennedy were thrown a welcome party. On top of that, they're basically waited on, hand and foot. They have their apartment cleaned weekly by a cleaning crew and have three meals prepared for them every day, whether or not they choose to eat them or not.
Some of the elders who Hoiles and Kennedy are living with are also huge BlueSox fans, with a few mentioning how they used to go to all their games. Within the area, the team is a big deal, so for a couple of the players to stay in the same confines as them is a pretty neat situation, even for the older folks.
"Whatever we need, Gary will do for us," Hoiles said. "All the elder people too, they brought us in pretty well, celebrity-wise. ...They're always thinking about us."
They've also been provided with an activities sheet, a list that allows them to do whatever the elders are doing. So far, however, Hoiles and Kennedy haven't taken part in as much as they'd like. The grind of the baseball season hasn't permitted that.
But, even with how different their living arrangements are for the summer, that's still the least of their challenges, compared to what they must endure on the diamond.
A new type of baseball: Baseball runs deep in Hoiles' blood.
His father, Chris, was a Major League All-Star during his time with the Baltimore Orioles, so, genetically, Dalton was going to inherit some of that.
During his time in high school, he starred for the Rockets, becoming a key cog in helping Spring Grove to the District 3-AAAA playoffs all four years he was in high school. It was enough to land him at Shippensburg, where in his first two years, he's carried that same success from high school into the college ranks. This past year, he was third on the team in hitting with a .358 average. He also had a .536 slugging percentage, four home runs and 42 RBIs.
Yet, even with all that success, this summer will provide him with a whole new set of obstacles.
The Prospect League is a wooden-bat league, meaning Hoiles will put away his aluminum bats for a few months and break out the lumber. Wooden-bat leagues are some of the premier summer college leagues in the country because they force some of the game's best amateur players to resort to pro circumstances.
The equipment is one change, but so is the schedule. No more is it weekend doubleheaders and one midweek game. Instead, the Prospect League operates like any normal pro league, playing games every night, leading to road trips and home stands, cramming a 60-game slate into three months.
"It's a lot different from the college game," Hoiles said. "You're only playing one game in the midweek in college and then four games on the weekend — two doubleheaders. Here, you're playing everyday. We just got done with a 12-game stretch, so it was definitely a big grind and big difference there. Mentally and physically, just playing nine innings everyday, so it's a big improvement. Your body just has to adapt to it."
So far, even with all the changes, Hoiles is still performing. He's hitting .273 on the summer with a team-high two home runs and is second on the team with 15 RBIs. That's saying something, to put up respectable numbers like that in a league that's produced MLB talent such as Joe Girardi, Ryan Howard, Jonathan Papelbon, Kirby Puckett and many others.
Starting a trend: With how well received both Hoiles and Kennedy have been with their current living situation, Renwick doesn't see why this can't be something that, not only continues yearly, but expands to other teams.
Right now, Butler is the only team in the Prospect League to offer those types of accommodations for athletes. But, if more and more teams find themselves in similar situations, it could be a direction in which they turn.
"I think it's something that the other teams are going to look into," Renwick said. "It's easy housing. It doesn't cost us much. We have availability, which for us is unfortunate, but it's worked out for us. I think it's something that might take off and I like being the first one to do it."
As for Hoiles, with how well this summer has gone so far, he can absolutely see this as a possibility if he's invited back to play for the BlueSox next summer.
For as unique as this summer is turning out to be, he seems to be adjusting quite well to being treated like a celebrity.
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at email@example.com