fbpx
The Grand Rapids Gold recently started housing players at The Grove, a new apartment complex outside of Grand Rapids. The Grand Rapids Gold recently started housing players at The Grove, a new apartment complex outside of Grand Rapids. COURTESY RENDERING

Sports teams heighten focus on player housing

BY Sunday, January 30, 2022 06:42pm

Ever since the West Michigan Whitecaps settled in Grand Rapids in 1994, its players have relied on local host families to provide housing during the baseball season.

Under the organization’s “Keep-A-Cap” program, which is still going strong, players pay a nominal fee to live with a Grand Rapids-area household. Starting this year, though, the Detroit Tigers will be picking up the tab on any expenses affiliated with the program.

Last fall, Major League Baseball owners approved a new policy that requires teams to provide housing for nearly all of their Minor League players, eliminating housing-related expenses and helping players avoid tying themselves up in leases.

The latest change in policy directly affects the way that the Whitecaps and the Lansing Lugnuts approach player housing while shining a light on the issues that prospects of any sport often encounter when they’re rising up through the lower ranks.

Solving the housing problem

Under the Keep-A-Cap program, the Whitecaps have made life simple for the Detroit Tigers, which is now responsible for housing any Minor League player that makes less than $20,000 per month or is not currently under contract with Major League Baseball.

“(The Keep-A-Cap) program is going to be able to continue, and I’m glad it is,” said Jim Jarecki, vice president and general manager of the Whitecaps, which serves as the High-A Minor League affiliate for the Tigers. 

“It’s really a part of what we are and what we do because we have families that have been involved since day one. A lot of them for the last five to 10 years.”

Minor League Baseball, especially for those who are not top Major League prospects, is fairly notorious for its thankless lifestyle. In some cases, young baseball players endure living conditions that are borderline impoverished as they pursue a career in the Big Leagues.

Major League Baseball’s new housing policy was put in place to ensure that prospects of all backgrounds are able to settle into their club’s home city while still remaining mobile for potential call-ups.

The Keep-A-Cap program has been a wild success: Jarecki said that it has been the preferred living arrangement for nearly 100 percent of players over the years — even those who could afford apartments.

“(Major League Baseball) will be providing housing for them, so in essence, (the Tigers will) be paying the rent for that,” he said. “How that’s being established really varies team by team. They’re trying to work on some things. We’re fortunate — the (Tigers) don’t have to worry about it because we have that programing plan here.”

For the Lansing Lugnuts, the High-A affiliate to the Oakland Athletics, housing has been more of a thorn in the organization’s side. The team lacks a network of host families like the Whitecaps and is left to negotiate with area apartments to provide lease terms that fit with the needs of a player, who are generally only in town for about five months of the year. Players also compete with Lansing Community College and Michigan State University students for housing options.

The Lugnuts are now working with the Oakland Athletics to find the best possible arrangement for the coming season, even looking beyond apartments to options like Airbnb or executive rentals.

“They’re really going the extra mile,” said Greg Kigar, assistant general manager for the Lugnuts. “Now that Oakland basically is paying for it for everyone, there is just one payment — they’re trying to bundle up everything they can and complexes won’t have to work directly with players.”

Before the new policy, the Lugnuts would provide prospects with a list of local housing options and they would fend for themselves to find something. Kigar acknowledged that it was a challenge.

“Guys that come from nothing were left hanging out to dry,” he said. “Having worked in college athletics, I know some guys that are now coaches and they went through the system — they understand it and said it sucked.”

Home away from home

As well, housing needs for minor league athletes extend beyond baseball.

For the Grand Rapids Gold, an NBA G-League organization that is affiliated with the Denver Nuggets, housing makes up roughly 20 percent of its total operating expenses. The NBA mandates that teams must house their players. In its seven years of operation, the team has shuffled through a few different housing solutions.

This year, the entire Gold team and staff are housed at The Grove, a new apartment complex that was developed north of Grand Rapids. The brand new complex was a welcome sign for the Gold, which was working to avoid splitting players up among various housing facilities.

“We had to scramble until we got to The Grove,” said Gold President Steve Jbara. “We were going to be at two different complexes and that can be tough to coordinate with getting guys to practice and getting them to the arena.”

The Gold reserves hotel rooms for prospects who are assigned to the team from the Nuggets and frequently travel back and forth between organizations.

Jbara said he is optimistic that the new housing arrangement will serve as a long-term solution and underscored how important reliable and desirable housing is for attracting talent.

“It’s very important — especially for those with families,” Jbara said. “Maybe they’re overseas and looking at signing a contract with the Gold. They have to make sure their family is taken care of. Their kids will have to plug into school relatively quickly. They want somewhere safe and somewhere nice.”

The Grand Rapids Griffins take more of a hands-off approach to housing. Players in the American Hockey League make a minimum of $52,000, many of them significantly more, which makes housing a little more attainable.

“We definitely do assist in whatever fashion possible to help the guys find housing,” Griffins President Tim Gortsema said. “They’re usually looking for downtown apartments. They’re young guys — they want to be close to the restaurants, bars and rink.”

When a player comes to Grand Rapids on an AHL or NHL two-way contract, the Griffins provide transitional housing while the prospect secures permanent housing. Throughout their two-and-a-half decades in Grand Rapids, the Griffins have formed relationships with area apartments to help fit the unconventional housing needs of their players.

“I think a lot of the area apartments have been good with the guys, potentially offering less than a 12-month lease, one that marries up to the season a little better,” Gortsema said. 

Read 2426 times Last modified on Sunday, 30 January 2022 21:20
SUBSCRIBE TO MIBIZ TODAY FOR WEST MICHIGAN’S FINEST BUSINESS NEWS REPORTING >