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Little League team hosts take job to heart

Fondly referred to as 'uncles,' team hosts feel like they're part of the family

'Uncle Tom' and 'Uncle Ed' are two of the Lake Oswego Little League team's biggest fans. Even though they're not supposed to be.

'I'm the biggest fan they've got,' said Tom Rachael, one of Lake Oswego Little League team hosts - a position designated by Little League Baseball to act as a liaison between the team, the parents, the fans,

the media and the organization itself.

Edward Weinhoffer, the other team host, who has 22 years of experience as a host with Little League, admitted that trying to abide by the 'no rooting' rule is often difficult because of the relationships they create with the teams over the two weeks they are in charge of them.

'We become fans,' he said. And it was hard to cover up for the fact that they were actively cheering on Lake Oswego, especially when an ABC producer advised them that their cheers and comments of support, and the occasional questioning of a call, were being broadcast over the live microphone in the dugout.

'They came down and told us to be quiet,' Weinhoffer said with a chuckle. 'There's a delay, I think they were having to do a lot of editing.'

Rachael and Weinhoffer even balked at Little League Baseball's dress-code rule.

'The boys gave us Lake Oswego Lakers hats. Little League doesn't like us to do that, they want us to wear the Northwest hats, but the kids gave us these. We're going to wear them,' Rachael said.

At the start of the little leaguers' two-week World Series adventure, they are introduced to their team hosts as their 'uncles'. The hosts' jobs range from corralling fans, dealing with the descending media, organizing VIP tickets for the parents, and keeping the boys on a schedule.

'We get a lot of 'I lost my socks', 'I lost my belt', 'I lost my badge,'' Weinhoffer said. 'And there are some who are homesick. When they're 12 years old, a lot of them haven't been away from home. We're someone to talk to when they're homesick.'

Rachael explained they also have another very important job.

'We are asked to get them girls' phone numbers and email addresses,' he said.

Weinhoffer was pulled to the side during batting practice to grab Levi Rudolph to pose with a girl fan for a picture. However, even though the hosts tease the boys about their adoring fans, their job is also to keep the boys moving and to know when to put the signing and picture taking to an end.

Dealing with the media is also in their job description.

'[The media] is demanding of the children. The kids like it, but sometimes the parents don't like it because it takes the focus off of baseball, which is why they are here. It's tough to be the bad guy, but that's what you have to do,' Rachael said.

Weinhoffer and Rachael have been team hosts together for seven years. After being on a waiting list for a few years, Rachael worked for two years in a rotating utility position until Weinhoffer's partner retired and he was brought on in a permanent role.

It is a highly competitive position with a low turnover rate and it is strictly volunteer. The unpaid

position is hectic for two weeks out of the year, but worth it for all the men who are lucky enough to be the kids' 'uncles'.

Most host duos stay together until one retires the post.

'There are certain things I do that Tom knows I'm doing and there are

certain things he's doing that I know he's going to handle, so I don't worry about it. We either both take the blame or we both take the credit,' Weinhoffer said.

They have only hosted a team from the United States once before. Being assigned a team is strictly luck of the draw, which is held during a luncheon in June. For five of their seven years, Weinhoffer and Rachael hosted international teams, including Saudi Arabia, Japan, and Guam.

'The Japan team from the other year still sends us pictures and cards,' Rachael said.

Because the regions are assigned before any of the teams have qualified, the hosts can watch a team progress to the Little League World Series and get to know teams and how they play before the boys ever get to Williamsport.

'When you draw the teams, you are looking at the map and thinking, 'Okay. Now, where is Lake Oswego?'' Rachael said.

Since Weinhoffer and Rachael were already the team hosts, their jobs were in full swing the moment the Lake Oswego team knew it was headed to the

World Series.

'With the Little League on the internet, parents are now calling us. On Monday morning {after Lake Owego qualified) we were getting phone calls from California. The Northwest was one of the last teams to qualify and so the parents needed help with knowing where to

stay,' Weinhoffer said.

The two men communicate a lot with team mom Jackie McLaughlin, who impressed them with her organizational skills. Their phones start ringing the moment they know who they're hosting and don't stop until after the

Series is over. But even though it's tiring, it's also one of the most incredible experiences of their lives.

'You make relationships that are priceless. The kids are fun. It's very rewarding,' said Rachael, who said that they often find themselves having water battles with the kids, pillow fights and playing ping-pong.

'For two weeks out of the year, I can be 12 years old again,' he said.

Ping-pong has been a huge hit with the Lake Oswego team, with Weinhoffer and Rachael helping coach Craig Ramey manage a tournament with the boys in the Grove, the segregated housing complex for all of the teams.

'The attitude is really cool. You see kids who get here and they are really quiet, shy and introverted and they keep to themselves. But as the week goes on all the teams are melded together and you see a player

from Japan and from Oregon playing ping-pong together,' Rachael said.

'We need to take lessons from the kids sometimes. They might happen to lose, but then they go back and pick up a ping-pond paddle and forget about it.'

They have fallen in love with the Lake Oswego little leaguers and enjoyed getting to know the team, the kids, the coaches and the parents. Weinhoffer commented that the team is so well-managed that their job is really easy this year, but that makes it even harder to say goodbye.

'It is really difficult to watch them leave. That's a teary-eyed thing, because you get really close to these kids for two weeks. This is something they will remember for the rest of their lives. They may not remember the score of the game, but they will remember the experience. We have kids who come back and look us up. They remember this.'

And the two men say they haven't ruled out a trip to Lake Oswego someday. The kids have made the offer, and they just might take them up on it.