Former Bethesda Big Train star Hunter Renfroe (2011-12) sat in the dugout at Frawley Stadium in Wilmington, Delaware the night of the 2014 Carolina/California League All-Star Game.
The night began with the jersey retirement for former Wilmington Blue Rocks player and 18-year MLB veteran Johnny Damon. As he accepted the honors, someone special stood on stage with him: his minor league host mom.
“I said, ‘Hunter, I want that. After your amazing professional career, I want to be able to celebrate it on stage with you,’” Becky Crowley said to him after the game.
Crowley hosted Renfroe for his two summers with the Big Train, along with dozens of other players over her 19 years doing so. She is a major reason why he, and many others, came back to Bethesda for a second year of summer ball.
“I knew that she was always going to be there,” Renfroe said. “She loves baseball and she loves her kids. She really enjoys watching us play baseball…It was kind of like a comfort blanket that she would come and you would see her in the stands.”
Crowley has turned into the model Big Train host mom, but her introduction to the organization in 2001 came by surprise.
While taking care of her Uncle Jack, who was in hospice, she got a call from her sister, Nora, who began to talk about Big Train.
“She says, ‘Hey, my friend told me about this college baseball summer team. They need places for players. I was gonna do it but my house is too small. Why don’t you do it?’” Crowley said. “Honestly, I wasn’t even half-listening to her, but I said, ‘Yeah, yeah. Whatever,’ and I got off the phone.”
Soon after, she received calls from the families of her first two players: Chris Welsch and Brady Glass. There, her host mom journey began.
Now, she has done it year after year for nearly two decades, gaining a reputation from those that she hosted and people within Big Train.
“The host families are our secret sauce,” Big Train founder Bruce Adams said. “The word of mouth among the players and coaches is, if you come to Bethesda, you’re going to be taken care of. Becky is the personification of that. She is the Hall of Fame host mom.”
Renfroe is just one of many players Crowley hosted who went on to be drafted, and one of roughly a dozen consecutive Mississippi State players to stay with her for the summer.
Needless to say, she was key in getting players to return: not only Renfroe, but others like former Bulldog infielder Jarrod Parks (Big Train 2009-10), who also stayed with her for two summers.
“Myself and Luke Adkins were really the first Mississippi State guys to begin that wave,” Parks said. “I don’t want to take all the credit, but the next summer I came back and played, I was basically selling Becky like, ‘Yeah, everyone needs to come stay over here. She’s the best.’”
The wave started with them and kept coming. Nearly every player Crowley housed who came back for a second year stayed with her again, a testament to her personality and her love for the game and her “kids.”
Players aren’t at Shirley Povich Field 24/7, so while at her house in Olney, Maryland, they spend a lot of time with her talking over meals and watching television.
“I tried to get her to watch basketball since the playoffs were going on,” pitcher Sean Barry (Big Train 2016) said. “We watched Jeopardy a few nights a week. It was a good time.”
Barry’s older brother, Adam, played for Big Train a few years prior and also stayed with Crowley.
A native of Thousand Oaks, California, the younger Barry spent the summer on the other side of the country, but knowing Crowley through his brother helped Bethesda feel like his home away from home.
Along with hosting, Crowley has been very active within the organization, helping out as a game day volunteer early on.
“She really did it all,” Big Train board member and former general manager Alex Thompson said. “…I interacted with her every game. This core group of adult volunteers that got really close, I could always rely on them and she was a key part of that.”
She’s also the treasurer of the Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League, a title she’s held for more than five years. Big Train manager Sal Colangelo originally threw her name in the hat as Crowley’s professional background is in accounting, and it immediately worked out.
It’s a testament to the many hats she’s worn in her time with Big Train, but none would have been possible without that first yes and her Uncle Jack.
“When all that was going on, it was a really sad time, but I sometimes think, ‘Uncle Jack gave this to me,’” Crowley said. “…I wouldn’t trade it for anything. It’s just been wonderful. It’s such a random, unusual thing, but it’s so perfect for me.”
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