Baseball helps family heal with a match made in heaven

Published On: Aug 30 2012 03:32:11 PM CDT   Updated On: Aug 17 2012 07:11:07 PM CDT

ONALASKA, Wis. -- The La Crosse Loggers' magical season could not have been possible without the many host families that let players stay at their house for the summer. For one host family, this summer had special meaning.

The Benas have been die-hard Logger fans for just about ever, but this season they decided to take their Logger support to the next level and host a player.

While they wanted to support the hometown team, they ended up receiving some much-needed support in return.

“It's a much different kind of goodbye,” said Linda Bena.

This year's Logger season is winding down and for the Bena family, it's coming to a bittersweet ending.

“It was one of those things where we wanted to do something to help, but Alex has helped us more than we've helped him,” said Linda.

The Benas wanted to support the hometown team by hosting a Logger for the summer.

“After meeting him, I knew it wasn't long before he'd have a special place in our family, and forever will,” said Linda.

The player they would be hosting was left-handed pitcher Alex Gunn from Mississippi, and Alex was in for a big surprise.

“They met me outside in the driveway and they were like, ‘We have something to tell you,” said Alex.

“It was one of those things where we needed to do, something to help move ourselves on,” said Linda.

The Benas lost their daughter, Audra, two years ago to cancer. It was a wound in their lives that Alex was soon going heal with a little help from above.

“Cleaning out Audra's room just because wasn't a reason,” said Linda. “I needed a reason to do that and it was very hard to have this feeling that I was cheating on Audra, but that wasn't the case at all. It was in so many ways it was like she was here telling us that, ‘It's OK, you've done the right thing.’”

And it all started at the dinner table.

“The first night I got here, her song is, 'If I Die Young,' and we turn on the TV radio while we eat, and it came on,” said Alex.

“That's Audra saying we've done a good thing here,” said Linda.

Soon the family found out Alex shared many similarities with Audra including their love for animals.

“So many similarities, so much in common, and I feel right at home here, and I feel like Audra was kind of leading me here,” said Alex.

While Alex will soon head home, this goodbye will be different because they know they share a bond; a match truly made in heaven.

“She leaves us many signs,” said Linda. “You just have to keep your ears and your eyes open, and they're there.”

Alex doesn't know if he'll be making it back next season and the Benas said if he does, he has to stay with their family again.

Alex is also planning a trip back sometime in the winter to visit to truly experience snow in the Midwest.

Host families have been a tradition ever since the Loggers first started. This year, 21 players are staying with host families in the area.