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Homestay an 'Amazing' Family Affair


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K.J. Ward knew he was leaving the deep south and heading north to last summer to play baseball with the Edmonton Riverhawks. He was less sure about his accommodations.

K.J. arrived late at night on Neil and Dana Kautz's doorstep. They welcomed K.J. in to his home away from home and told him his room was in the basement. Basement? K.J. had never even seen a basement before! He headed downstairs to discover a beautiful room featuring major league baseball caps all over one wall. The big right handed pitcher crawled into the big bed in the beautiful room and thought he just might have the perfect summer home.

His feelings were confirmed the next day when he met Neil and Dana's kids. Parker, Easton and Riley were enamoured with the 6' 5" 275 pound pitcher from Houston, Texas. K.J. quickly took to the kids, as well, and the four of them headed out to the backyard to play sports - and they never stopped for the rest of the summer.

"We had a lot of fun," K.J. fondly recalls from his home in Phoenix, Arizona, where he's attending school. "I'm really looking forward to seeing the Kautz family again."

The youngest boy, Riley, says it was a ton of fun having K.J. stay at their home and watching his competitive spirit surface playing games. "Once we were losing by 40 points in backyard wiffle ball and he was saying he's not ready to quit, that he just wanted to finish this game and win. Two hours later we were still playing wiffle ball!"

Neil and Dana wondered what they were getting into when they responded to the appeal for homestay families from the Riverhawks, who were embarking on their inaugural year in the West Coast League. "We're big into baseball - the kids are fans and play - and I looked online and saw the homestay program and I tossed it at Dana and she said sure!"

"You don't really know exactly what you're getting into," adds Dana. "But it was so good. He was so great with the kids and so great with their friends, it was amazing. He was incredible to have."

Their oldest boy, Parker, says his favourite times with K.J. was heading to RE/MAX Field. "There were a lot of fun things but going to the Riverhawks games and feeling like part of the team was my favourite parts. We really felt included because all the guys talked to us since we were there so much."

His parents agree. Neil says, "In terms of the experience at the Riverhawks games, the boys were involved in everything. It was actually really cool to see. We'd go to the games and we'd never see them the entire game!"

"They made the kids feel like they were part of the team," adds Dana. "They would give the players high fives. The kids knew everybody and everybody knew the kids."

The four boys got to be such good pals the Kautz kids would tell K.J. they were going to help him find him a girl in Edmonton. Easton jokes, "When we were playing wiffle ball outside, people would walk by and I would tell K.J., "Oooohhh, you've got one over here." And he looked over to see an 81-year-old woman! He just smiled and said, "She's mine!""

"We want these players to come and have a great experience and a valuable part of that is the home stay program," says Edmonton Riverhawks Managing Director Dr. Randy Gregg. "We want these players from the United States to come up and learn about our culture and our hospitality and then go home raving about Edmonton."

"I really appreciate all the Kautz family did for me," adds K.J. "They made my stay in Edmonton even better than what I anticipated. It was a great way to learn more about the city and surrounding area.""

Homestay families receive season tickets for the family and $300 a month. The Kautz were in it for the experience more than the perks. And that experience was so memorable for them they're ready to do it all over again. And this time their house guest will know what a basement looks like!

We thank all the great people who took part in this wonderful program in our inaugural season.

If you would like to find out more about providing a home to a great young collegiate athlete in 2023, please email the Edmonton Riverhawks Homestay Program at admin@gohawks.ca.

Hear directly from the Kautz family in the story on our YouTube channel!