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Host families play a key role in helping Ridgefield Raptors feel at home

Players Mikey and Doyle Kane form strong bond with hosts Tony and Jodi Rayburn

By Will Denner, Columbian staff writer
Published: July 20, 2022, 7:39pm
6 Photos
Jodi, left, and Tony Rayburn, right, stand with Raptors players Mikey, center left, and Doyle Kane at the Ridgefield Outdoor Recreation Complex. The Rayburns are the host family for the Kane brothers, who hail from Southern California, while they play for the Raptors this summer.
Jodi, left, and Tony Rayburn, right, stand with Raptors players Mikey, center left, and Doyle Kane at the Ridgefield Outdoor Recreation Complex. The Rayburns are the host family for the Kane brothers, who hail from Southern California, while they play for the Raptors this summer. (Photos by Taylor Balkom/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

RIDGEFIELD — At almost every home game, Ridgefield Raptors players Doyle Kane and Mikey Kane look up to the stands behind home plate to make sure their two biggest fans are there.

It’s important for the brothers from Southern California to acknowledge the support Tony and Jodi Rayburn give them, and it goes well beyond the game.

The Rayburns are one of 25 host families who open up their homes to college baseball players spending their summer with the Raptors. This year, the team had a couple more interested host families than players available, though getting enough families on board often comes close to the start of the season, according to Jason Krohn, the Raptors director of baseball and game-day operations. Hosts reside in Ridgefield, Vancouver, Battle Ground and even as far as Kalama. Front office staff talk with prospective families before the season to verify that they can provide a safe, clean environment for players and a “space to call their own for the summer,” Krohn said.

By the season’s end, the Raptors will play 60-plus games in a little more than 70 days, half of which require travel. In the midst of that busy schedule, Jodi, 56, and Tony, 60, aim to provide some normalcy for players like Doyle and Mikey, who are staying with the Rayburns for a second summer at their Mount Vista-area home.

“It’s not work, it’s fun,” Jodi Rayburn said. “We are their home away from home, we’re their support system, we’re their fans.”

The family’s positive experience with their son Seth Rayburn, a Columbia River High School alumnus, playing for the Cowlitz Black Bears from 2014-18 and staying with a host family prompted them to get involved.

“We’ve been pretty fortunate with our kid in baseball,” Tony Rayburn said. “(We wanted to) give back.”

They got their first taste of being a host family in 2018 with Cowlitz when they housed Zack Denney and their son, who were teammates at University of Tennessee-Martin.

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When the Raptors sought host families ahead of their inaugural 2019 season, the Rayburns, who are less than a 10-minute drive from Ridgefield Outdoor Recreation Complex, volunteered to be one. That season they hosted Oregon State’s Justin Boyd, who earlier this week was selected by the Cincinnati Reds in the MLB Draft.

In 2021, they were paired with two players from Dallas Baptist. However, one ended up playing in the Midwest-based Northwoods League and the other suffered an injury in the spring and didn’t end up playing.

Their house suddenly felt empty for the summer.

“That was hard,” Jodi said.

Meanwhile, Doyle Kane and Mikey Kane played together that summer with the Dodge City A’s in Dodge City, Kansas, before returning home at the season’s end in July. They got a message from Raptors head coach Chris Cota, who’s also their coach at College of the Canyons, about filling some vacant roster spots for the final few weeks.

They immediately had a host family in the Rayburns eager to welcome them. Before Doyle and Mikey even arrived in Ridgefield, Jodi was texting both of them to get a sense of what they liked.

“We had a great experience for the first year with the host family in Kansas,” Doyle Kane said. “Then we came up here (and) had pretty much the exact same great experience. We loved Jodi and Tony. It’s basically like a home away from home.”

“And they just welcomed us with open arms,” Mikey Kane added. “We get there the first night and they’re like, ‘Our house is your house. If you’re ever hungry, go into the pantry, open the fridge, whatever is in there, go ahead.’ It’s really nice.”

The brothers stayed for three weeks of the season and reunited with the Rayburns this year days before the season began.

Part of being a host family is providing things for players to make their lives a little easier. Helping with laundry, lending them a spare car to get around and cooking meals, for example.

Jodi often packs lunches for Doyle and Mikey to take to the ballpark. Then, Jodi and Tony will get a jump on them coming home from a game to make dinner.

Sometimes, the Rayburns host an even bigger group. Mikey celebrated his 21st birthday on a recent Monday, a rare day off for the team. The Rayburns hosted them, as well as teammates Will Chambers, Lateef Wakil, Travis Welker, Alex Sepulveda and Riley McCarthy, for a steak and salmon dinner.

“And what’s nice is they sit down with us and carry on a conversation,” Jodi said. “They’re cool about communicating.”

There’s also the support aspect of hosting players. For the Rayburns, sometimes it’s as simple as giving Doyle and Mikey space, or letting them sleep in after a particularly grueling stretch of games and travel.

“It’s pretty hard to be a player when you have nobody,” Jodi said, “so you need to have somebody there, whether it is food (or) hugs.”

Attending games is also important. Jodi and Tony rarely miss one at the RORC, and try to make at least one road trip per season. With family and friends often accompanying them to games, Doyle and Mikey have several familiar faces to look toward in the stands.

“They come to the games, they’re cheering us on, we hear them in the stands more than anyone else,” Mikey said. “We love that.”

The Rayburns have also gotten to know the players’ parents, Mike and Lindie Kane, during trips to drop off their sons and subsequent visits.

During games, Tony will sometimes receive texts from Mike watching remotely with codewords for Doyle and Mikey when they go up to bat, which the Rayburns can relay down to the field.

“I think once people (become host families) they’ll realize the relationships that are built, not only with the kids but also the parents,” Tony said.

The end of the summer is the bittersweet part for Jodi and Tony, like watching their own kids leave home.

They’re holding out hope Doyle and Mikey will return to Ridgefield for another year, though with the strong season each of them are having with the Raptors, they could also gain access to a higher level of summer collegiate baseball league.

Regardless, the Rayburns will continue to follow Doyle and Mikey’s baseball careers and be a part of each other’s lives.

“We love them so much,” Mikey said. “They do so much for us.”

And, the Rayburns say they’re committed to being a host family for the long haul. It has become a way of life for them each summer.

“I just think we’re a baseball family,” Jodi said. “There’s no way we’re ever going to get away from it. We don’t want to get away from it either.”