Updated: Jul 1
If there ever was a Hall of Fame for host families, consider Mark and Denise Bauer first-ballot Hall of Famers.
Since 1998, the second season of Northwoods League baseball in St. Cloud, the Bauer family has welcomed a player into their home. They have provided warm meals, a place to sleep and most importantly, a fun and loving atmosphere for each player.
They were also home to four Major League Baseball players who have donned a St. Cloud uniform. Casey McGehee, Jason Jaramillo, Roger Kieschnick and Josh Taylor all made significant contributions on and off the baseball diamond during their stay in Minnesota.
Those four players also helped create lasting memories for a family that gives back to the community each year by doing what they love: being a host family.
How the Bauer’s Became a Host Family
Mark Bauer has been around sports his entire life. He played baseball in high school, coached baseball for his children growing up and played softball until he was 57.
He has a wealth of knowledge and history for the city of St. Cloud too, attending Rox games when they were a minor league franchise until 1971. When the St. Cloud River Bats became a franchise in 1997, the Bauer family would soon come to expect baseball every summer.
Just two years prior, the Bauer’s would get their first taste of being a host family when a national little league baseball tournament was held in Waite Park, Minnesota. Sherry Nemec, current Host Family Coordinator for the Rox , helped connect the family to the event and house a player, as the tournament made players stay away from their families during the event so they could better focus on baseball.
By 1998, the family welcomed its first River Bat for the summer in Josh France. The 18-year old came from Phoenix, Arizona and was drafted by the San Diego Padres coming out of high school. After his first season of summer ball, he decided to return to the franchise and the Bauer’s home for his second season.
“I think we picked him up at the airport,” Mark Bauer said. “He walked in the house and he propped himself in the living room on the couch and he goes, ‘God, it feels like home.’
A Special Summer in 2001
When the Bauer’s first became a host family, Mark didn’t have any thoughts that they could one day house a future Major League Baseball player. He thought that the players were in the league to improve for their college team.
“I was young enough that I went to the old Rox games when they were a Class-A Minor League team and even then, in the years I saw them play, maybe one or two kids made it up to the Major’s out of the St. Cloud team,” Bauer said.
His thoughts would soon change in the summer of 2001 when they were assigned to house a college kid named Casey McGehee from Fresno State. He would have an immediate impact on the St. Cloud franchise, helping lead them to the Northwoods League championship game against Waterloo.
McGehee would go on to be drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the 10th round of the 2003 MLB Draft. He would make his debut in 2008 and continue to play professionally until he retired in 2018.
During his career, he played for the Brewers, Pirates, Yankees, Marlins, Giants and Tigers. He also had two stints playing overseas for the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles and Yomiuri Giants.
Even when he made it to The Show, he didn’t forget about the family that helped him along his baseball journey.
“It’s neat when you get these guys in the big league situation where they still want to talk about family and people they [know],” Bauer said.
The Bauer’s had seen McGehee play a few times in Minneapolis, but one of the memorable moments came when Mark, his son and a friend went to watch him in Milwaukee.
The three were sitting on the edge of the field in the stands talking to McGehee when a security attendant approached them and told the trio they couldn't be there bothering players.
“Casey kind of looked over my shoulder and just went, ‘would you just go away? These are my friends,’” Bauer said.
The family is still Facebook friends with McGehee to this day.
First Came McGehee, Then Came Jaramillo
Following Casey McGehee in 2001, the next college baseball player to live in the Bauer home was Jason Jaramillo.
“Jason was very serious. He’s kind of a quiet kid,” Bauer said. “Defensively, [he was an] unbelievable catcher.”
Originally picked by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 39th round of the 2001 amateur draft, Jaramillo decided to attend Oklahoma State. Baseball America rated him as the top prospect in Wisconsin and eventually as the No. 6 overall prospect in the Northwoods League. He would become a Northwoods League All-Star after playing in St. Cloud.
The talented catcher would go on to be drafted by the Phillies once again in 2004, this time with the 62nd overall pick. He would eventually be added to Philadelphia’s 40-man roster in 2007, but would wait to make his Major League Baseball debut with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2009.
One of the highlights of Jaramillo’s career was playing on Team USA in the 2007 Baseball World Cup, where he hit .316. He went 2 for 4 with a double and an RBI in the Gold Medal game as the Americans won their first Baseball World Cup in over 30 years.
For a family that just started being a host family in 1998, two future Major League Baseball players by 2002 isn’t too shabby. However, they weren’t done yet.
From St. Cloud to Team USA for Kieschnick
Roger Kieschnick could not have been more excited to play baseball in St. Cloud. He was ready for the opportunity.
However, a tryout for the 2006 USA National Team would soon change how his summer would look. He told the Bauer’s if it wasn’t for his coach, he wouldn’t even go to the tryout. When he departed, he told the family he would be back.
“[Kieschnick] goes, ‘I just want to spend the summer here.’ [He was] just the nicest kid,” Bauer said. “Well, he turned around and made the team.”
The Texas Tech product only lasted about three weeks in St. Cloud after being selected to represent his country. They would go on to win a Gold Medal. Kieschnick would soon be drafted in the 3rd round of the 2008 MLB Draft by the San Francisco Giants.
After spending time in the minors, he finally got the call up in July of 2013. He went 2 for 5 in his debut and drove in two runs for the Giants.
A Family Favorite: Josh Taylor
In 2014, the St. Cloud Rox signed a talented pitcher out of Georgia College and State University in Josh Taylor.
During his time with the Rox, he appeared in 10 games and went 1-2 with a 3.82 ERA and struck out 51 batters over 44.2 innings pitched. In August of that summer, he signed an undrafted free agent deal with the Philadelphia Phillies.
By the time he left, he made a lasting impact on his host family. A connection that lives on to this day.
“Josh was just a treat to have here. He was just a hoot. He got along with the family and the kids,” Bauer said.
Mark’s daughter-in-law is involved with Waters Church in Sartell, Minnesota. Taylor would volunteer his time during the season and get to know children who really enjoy being around him.
“He was just a big, happy guy. [He] would never turn down a hi or an autograph,” Bauer said.
In 2019, Taylor made his Major League Baseball debut with the Boston Red Sox against the Cleveland Indians. During the entire season, he appeared in 52 games (one start) and finished with a 2-2 record with a 3.04 ERA and 62 strikeouts in nearly 50 innings pitched.
Mark’s son and daughter-in-law got to see Taylor in Minneapolis last year, a special moment for the two as they just had a baby.
“He thought it was so cool and got pictures of him there,” Bauer said.
The family still has contact with one of the most notable players in Rox history as he continues on his professional career.
From 1998-2020, the Bauer’s Continue to Provide
Mark and Denise Bauer have now been hosting players from across the country for as long as the players have been alive. They’ve provided countless meals, taken trips to the airport, cheered hard for their player in the stands and provided a great living environment year-in and year-out.
From Josh France in 1998 to their player for the 2020 season, they’ve always done the same for each player: let them be themselves.
They’ll be back at Joe Faber Field this season ready to cheer on the Rox. There might be a chance that Major Leaguer No. 5 is on the horizon in the Bauer household.