Modesto, Calif. -- Life is good right now for Trevor Story, just three games—and four home runs—into his Major League career. And while the odds are against him continuing to hit home runs at this rate as the season continues, you can't help but feel good about seeing the Colorado Rockies' rookie making such an impression on a national stage.
Things weren't always this easy for the remarkably even-keeled shortstop, though. And when baseball inevitably becomes difficult again, the young shortstop can look back to his time with the Modesto Nuts and recall what it took to overcome the challenges of the California League, as he will soon undoubtedly see new adversity in Denver.
Back in 2013, worlds away from hitting home runs off Zack Greinke, Trevor was just a 20-year-old kid trying to play baseball against opponents three years his senior, being rudely awakened in Modesto. In that first summer with the Nuts, the first round draft pick hit just .233/.305/.394, striking out a whopping 183 times in 554 at-bats. A season like that, especially after two strong summers in the low minors, greatly affected the young prospect.
"After that first Modesto season when I struggled, in that offseason I remember I took a different approach at it with everything," Story says. "Every aspect of my life was geared towards baseball and how I could make that better. I think I did that well."
"And then going back to Modesto for my second time with the familiar faces, that aspect of it was so helpful for me," Story adds. "Being with the Bloms, that even accelerated everything for me. They were in my corner helping me out with anything I ever needed."
The Bloms, Scott and Kathleen, are the ‘familiar faces' Story mentions right away when you ask him about Modesto; they were the young shortstop's host family both seasons he played in the California League. Each employees of the Modesto Police Department, Scott and Kathleen have been been a host family with the Nuts now going on six years, hosting ballplayers each summer that are recommended by the previous summer's minor leaguer. They've hosted future big leaguers like Story, Thomas Field, and Dustin Garneau, as well as some of the Rockies' promising young prospects like Ryan McMahon and Correlle Prime.
"Kathleen had run track all over the world, and she always stayed with host families when she was running nationally and internationally," Scott explains. "It was really our time to give back. Plus, we have two kids a little older than these guys, and they both moved out and went to college, so we've got spare rooms all over the house."
"Or two houses," he says, correcting himself and revealing a pretty sweet deal for the players he and his wife host. "We've got two houses next door to each other. With that, and our time to give back because of her, and the kids were gone, we thought we'd try it out."
The Bloms took to it immediately, and even though they have a strong relationship with all the players they've hosted—Garneau, for one, raves about Scott and Kathy—it's Story that made a special impression on the couple.
"Trevor was the youngest guy we've had, and I think he was the only high school player we had at that time," Scott says. "That first year he was with us he was kind of quiet, but as the season went on he got more talkative, and he got more comfortable."
"But there were just so many expectations that the Rockies had for him, because he was a first round draft choice," Scott adds, audibly defensive of the player who effectively became a family member after their summer together. "You've got to remember, he's playing here with kids that are three, four, five years older than he is. He was 20 when he first came here."
Struggling at 20 years old in High-A isn't the kiss of death for a career, as we've obviously seen with Trevor since that tough year in Modesto, but a difficult season does take its mental and physical toll on a player that young. Still, even Scott could see from afar that there was something different about the youngster.
"He was just good at everything, you could just see the raw talent," Scott remembers. "But you could also see the Rockies' coaches at the time, their minor league roving instructors. It was very interesting watching Trevor because you could watch them developing him, bringing that raw talent out. He struggled that first year, but they kept working with him, and you could just see him getting more confident the longer he was here."
"And I've gotta tell you," he adds, still sounding surprised like this happened just yesterday, "when he came back that second year and he walked in the door, he had put on some weight, and he was a big guy. He was cut. I remember him walking down the stairs one day, and I was like, ‘man, what happened to you?' He was very talkative, a lot of confidence coming in that second year, too. And it showed the second he got on the field."
Trevor Story goes deep. Image via Matt Kartozian/USA TODAY Sports
Though that first summer in Modesto was Trevor's third season of professional baseball, he was far from an adult, regardless of what his driver's license might have said. As you'd expect, the care and support the Bloms provided for a young man like Story that summer was a huge relief to the prospect's mom, Teddie, who we've seen before to be very emotionally invested in her sons.
"The thing I treasured the most about my kid staying with a family like the Bloms was that I knew that somebody would call me if something happened," Teddie says. "Or if he didn't come home that night. Or if, I don't know, it's always those things the parents worry about. It's always, ‘oh my gosh, he's broken down on the side of the road and he doesn't have anybody to come help him.'"
Garneau, came out of a major college program to professional baseball and had a different experience than Story with minor league life, is also very grateful to the Bloms.
"That was the best situation I could possibly have had, they just welcomed me with open arms," Garneau says about his time with the family in 2012. "I had them two years before that, too. I came up for a month, and they were gracious enough to open up their home and give me a room even then. So when I went back to Modesto [in 2012], they had a room for me, and I can't say enough about what they did for me. They are awesome."
While Garneau's adjustment to host family life was pretty smooth coming out of Cal State Fullerton, Trevor's wasn't exacly the same, having only ever lived with his parents up through high school. And Teddie admits, even though her son was no minor league rookie by the time he got to Modesto, he didn't take the ‘normal' path after high school. That caught her—and him—by surprise after he signed with the Rockies and was shipped off to his first baseball outpost.
"I guess the normal process would have been that they go away to college, they learn how to live off ramen noodles, how to do the laundry, all that stuff," Teddie says, chuckling. "So when Trevor didn't go to college and he signed right out of high school, it was like, ‘oh my gosh, we have to have this crash course of how to teach him how to do stuff.'"
"And we really didn't have any time to do that, because he was playing summer ball one day, then he walked the graduation stage on Saturday, then the MLB Draft was on Monday and he got picked," Teddie adds. "It was every parent's dream, the kid graduates from high school and he gets a job. That was really great. But it felt like, ‘oh my gosh, this is already happening!'"
A great host family situation in rookie level Casper, where the Rockies had their Pioneer League affiliate at the time, and then a good living situation at Low-A Asheville both helped calm Teddie's mind. But it wasn't until Trevor got to Modesto—on-field struggles aside—that mom finally felt at ease (or as much at ease as a mother can ever feel) about her son doing something physically and emotionally challenging while living halfway across the country.
"It's a tremendous relief when you know that he's not truly on his own," Teddie says, even now breathing a sigh of relief just reminiscing about it. "And especially in Modesto, that was the first time that he had really struggled. He's 20 years old, and all the newspaper articles say ‘what's the story with Story?' We just felt so disconnected from him, but it was really nice to be able to check on him by speaking with the Bloms and just asking, ‘is my kid OK?'"
Scott is used to concerned parents like Teddie. In fact, he and his wife have made it a point to keep a good relationship with players' parents specifically for times like what he saw with Trevor, because good parent-to-host family communication can help everybody involved.
"We're friends with all the parents," Scott says. "So if they need something, we just call them ourselves, because the guys get to playing baseball and being at the field all the time. And the parents get it. They've been at this a long time. So some of the time, the parents will go through us and we give them updates to put their mind at ease."
"But," he adds, speaking like a man well versed in the delicate balance of temporarily hosting young athletes, "we're not their parents. They have those people already. We're their summer parents. We take pictures and send them back home."
To Teddie, the Bloms' balance of support and providing space to players was in and of itself a blessing.
"Trevor is not a loud young man, so sometimes people think that he's shy," she says. "But it's really just that he doesn't know you yet, so he can seem a little bit shy. But the Bloms knew enough to let Trevor set the pace. They were so good about that. They knew exactly what those ballplayers needed."
Garneau is also adamant that the couple understands the unique balance of the host family relationship—and in doing so, shares a unique insight into what makes a good relationship from a players' perspective.
"They are top notch about that," says Garneau, who left tickets for the Bloms the first time he played in nearby San Francisco with the Rockies. "They don't say anything about baseball unless we bring it up, and they always talk about something other than baseball when we are sitting together. They are very smart about that stuff."
"We'll never ask about baseball unless they want to talk about it," Scott confirms. "We don't talk baseball unless they bring it up."
Trevor, too, speaks very highly of the Bloms.
"Scott and Kathy were awesome," he says. "They are salt of the earth kind of people, and I was blessed to be able to connect with them and live at their house for my time in Modesto."
"It makes it a lot easier when you have people like that whom you are able to come home to," he adds, referencing his on-field struggles in his first year with the Nuts. "They are nice enough to let me come live at their house for the summer, and that's not everyone's favorite thing to do. I'm very thankful they allowed me to do that."
For Mike Gorrasi, having a host family like the Bloms makes life just a little bit easier. The Executive Vice President of HWS Baseball and tasked with overseeing the Nuts' day-to-day business activities, including working with host families, Gorrasi knows very well how much of a difference a strong family can make in a player's time in Modesto, and in long-term player development.
"We're fortunate to have a good host family program, and I think that's where the mentorship comes in, that development as a person," Gorrasi says of the families that take ballplayers in every summer. "We have our core host families, a half dozen or so that have been doing it for ten years. Sometimes they go out and recruit, and sometimes we reach out to our fans. But then we've got to vet them a little bit. We'll go out, look at the place, make sure it's a safe environment, and gauge their motivation."
Last week before the season, like he does every year, Gorrasi gave a packet of housing information to the Nuts' trainer, who will distribute it to the team. That packet contains contact numbers for rental properties, host families, and extended stay hotels, and the players can collectively decide where they want to live, and with whom. While most of the guys want their own apartments or to live with teammates by the time they reach High-A, there are some—like Story and Garneau, and McMahon and Prime last summer—who prefer the close-knit experience of a host family.
"It just depends on the guy, but there are certainly benefits to it," Gorrasi says. "And certainly with the foreign born players, we try to hook them up with the host families. We've got a couple of really good ones that pretty much exclusively take the Latin American players and do a really good job with them."
Hosting players in Modesto—which, like many towns, has areas that are unsafe—can be an adventure, but it's somewhat less so when the host parents work for the police department, as is the case with Scott and Kathy. And as Scott tells it, those connections have worked out in funny ways a few times throughout their summers living with minor leaguers.
"When one guy first got to Modesto, the first thing he told us was that he had to call his parents," Scott remembers, already starting to laugh. "We were like, 'what do you mean you have to call your parents?' And he goes, ‘well, Modesto is a really violent place, you guys had Laci Peterson and all these other killings here.'"
"Modesto is actually a pretty violent city," Scott pauses to add, before continuing. "And he told us his mom was so worried that he was coming to Modesto, he had to call home and tell them he was staying with two cops."
Scott pauses again, laughing at the memory.
"So, yeah," he concludes. "That's a little story about Tommy Field."
Field isn't alone in his interpretation of Modesto; when we ask Garneau about the area, he clues us in to the city's reputation among many.
"You mean ‘Methdesto,'" he says, smiling.
Regardless of that perception, having a couple of cops as host parents worked out well for Story, as his mother tells it.
"In California, you can't talk on your phone while you are driving, and Trevor, I don't know if he didn't know that, or he didn't think it was a real rule or something, and he got pulled over because he was talking on his phone," Teddie remembers. "The policeman asked why he was there with Texas plates on this truck, Trevor said that he was a baseball player, and the guy asked where he lived. When Trevor said the Bloms were his host family, the policeman said, ‘you mean, like, my boss Scott Blom?' He got pulled over by a guy who works for his host dad!"
Garneau laughs when he hears that story.
"Yeah, I can see that," he says. "The Bloms let you know about [being police officers], but they keep it really light around there."
And for Garneau, the Bloms being as welcoming and laid back as they are has turned their relationship from host family to more like part of a real family.
"I've had a few host families in the past that I'm really close with, but with them I'm really close because we hang out with each other in the offseason," Garneau admits about the Bloms. "We're so close to where we can get together somewhere. We've even been to Vegas together. They are definitely a branch of our family."
The Bloms have become family for Trevor, too. The Rockies' budding star has made a lifelong impression on the new family members he now has in California's Central Valley. Scott can't wait for that impression to be felt at Coors Field, as Trevor is today on the eve of his Denver debut.
Soon, Trevor Story will take on Denver. Image via Christian Petersen/Getty
"He's a great guy, and the fans in Denver are going to love him," Scott says, his pride shining through. "He's humble, he's nice, he stays over and signs autographs and talks to people, and he likes to be involved in the community stuff. He was one of the guys the fans talked about here, and he realizes that. Every night, we'd be making plans to go to dinner after games, and he'd be there signing every kid's ball and bat. He was a star here."
And as Garneau says, ‘keeping it light' seems to be a good way to describe the Bloms, too; if you didn't know Scott's job, you'd be hard-pressed to guess it based on his easy-going demeanor. But there is one important thing Scott is serious about, regardless of whether or not it causes friction between the couple and their summer guests.
"We make sure that they know they are not right by the beach, which is about an hour and a half from here," Scott says, laughing. "And if you turn left and go for an hour and a half, you'll also be at AT&T Park."
"And that's the other thing," he adds. "I don't know if you want to put this in your article or not, but we make sure to let them all know that we're Giants fans here. We have Giants season tickets, so we root for the Rockies until they play the Giants, and then we get a little confused."
But Trevor, who will soon face the Giants at AT&T Park, has a solution for that.
"I'll have some tickets waiting for them for sure," the young shortstop says about having the Bloms watch his first big league trip to San Francisco, before pausing to think about it.
"But if Scott's such a Giants fan," he adds, smiling, "maybe he can have the Giants leave him tickets or something."
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Editor’s Note: This is one piece of a special seven-part feature series Purple Row is doing today to celebrate the beginning of another season of Modesto Nuts baseball. Below are all the other parts of the series about the Rockies’ High-A affiliate in the California League.
Click here to read more about the California League itself, a unique outpost in minor league baseball that's celebrating its 75th anniversary this summer.
Click here to read more about Mike Gorrasi, the man behind the Nuts' success in the community for the last 15 years.
Click here to read more about the long relationship between the Nuts and the Rockies, told by front office and player development executives.
Click here to read more about the city of Modesto, and how a community like that impacts what the Nuts do on and off the field.
Click here to read more about John Thurman Field, the Nuts' home ballpark that sits on a site that has hosted baseball in Modesto for a century.
Click here to see more pictures from Modesto’s John Thurman Field, to get a better sense of the ballpark the Nuts call home.
Unless otherwise noted, all images produced by and copyright of Jen Mac Ramos and Purple Row, and may not be reproduced or reprinted without permission. All rights reserved.