Warszawski: Giants' Jeremy Affeldt pitches in for causes well beyond his field

The Fresno BeeFebruary 1, 2014 

San Francisco Giants reliever Jeremy Affeldt is more than just your ordinary off-beat left-hander. His off-field work speaks volumes about his contributions to his community.

MARCIO JOSE SANCHEZ — ASSOCIATED PRESS

The Fresno Grizzlies typically get a major league ballplayer to speak at their annual Hot Stove Gala.

In Jeremy Affeldt, they're getting one of those and more.

Affeldt is best known for his five seasons of quality, sometimes spotless, relief pitching for the San Francisco Giants. Two of those seasons, as you're probably aware, ended in World Series titles.

The 34-year-old left-hander also is known for weird injuries. Two seasons ago, he strained a knee ligament lifting his 4-year-old son. At the end of 2011, he sliced open his right hand with a knife while trying to separate frozen hamburger patties.

"Knifing yourself is just stupid," Affeldt joked this week over the phone. "Right when I stabbed myself and had to put that in the paper I said, 'That'll be my legacy now.' "

He shouldn't have to worry.

Many pro athletes donate their money and time to humanitarian causes. Affeldt does those things, too. What separates him is a willingness to speak candidly on societal issues -- taking the chance that he might alienate those who disagree.

Take Affeldt's own published views on homosexuality.

In his 2013 book, "To Stir a Movement: Life, Justice and Major League Baseball," Affeldt revealed that he used to be homophobic and would sequester himself in his hotel room when teams he played for traveled to San Francisco.

But after joining the Giants, he met a few gay people for the first time in his life. He became friends with some of them and came to the realization that he was wrong to judge an entire community based on their sexual orientation.

That isn't the typical Christian viewpoint. But it's one held by a deeply religious man who believes love thy neighbor can't be selectively enforced.

Affeldt also has been called "the most honest athlete in America" for returning a $500,000 bonus the Giants awarded him by mistake in 2010 due to a bookkeeping error.

Legally, Affeldt could've kept the $500K. Morally, he couldn't.

"That was dirty money," Affeldt said. "Same as stealing for me."

Affeldt grew up a military brat, the son of a B-52 bombardier and radar instructor, and has some Valley roots. He lived in Merced from fifth through eighth grade while his dad was stationed at Castle AFB.

"Those are formative years," Affeldt said. "I remember friends I had back then. I remember trips to Yosemite. I remember participating in Merced College baseball camps and playing soccer."

A starkly different childhood memory opens Affeldt's book, one that may explain his commitment to abolishing human trafficking and fighting hunger. (To him, the two go hand in hand.)

Affeldt's family lived in Guam prior to Merced and regularly traveled through Southeast Asia. One day, in Bangkok, he was walking down the street when a man lured him toward a building and tried to drag him into it.

His father, walking a few paces behind, saw what was happening and helped pull his son free.

Affeldt cannot be certain of the man's intentions. But he has his suspicions.

"I was a blond-headed boy," Affeldt said. "That's high dollar in the trafficking world."

Affeldt was the first pro athlete to align with Not For Sale, the Northern California-based organization dedicated to raising awareness about human trafficking and aiding its victims. He has since persuaded dozens of major leaguers to donate money based on their number of strikeouts or home runs.

Affeldt's own foundation, Generation Alive, works with other non-profits to provide meals to needy families in the U.S. and Guatemala through a program called "Something2Eat."

On a recent Saturday in East Palo Alto, hundreds of volunteers, most of them teenagers, spent hours packaging containers of rice, soy, dried vegetables and nutrient powder. In all 175,000 meals were packaged and prepared for delivery.

"This is joy for me," Affeldt said when asked to explain the basis for his altruism. "I want my sons to think of me as a pitcher or World Series champion but as someone who loves humanity. I want my wife to be proud that her husband isn't some dumb jock that doesn't care about anyone but himself.

"I want them to see me as a man that loves his family, that loves other people and wants to use baseball as a platform to help others."

Affeldt knows he wouldn't have that platform without baseball and events like Tuesday's, which benefits the Grizzlies Community Fund, give him the chance to engage with fans.

With spring training fast approaching, he's sure to get plenty of questions about whether the Giants can extend their streak of championships in even-numbered years.

"You only wish there's a formula to that deal," Affeldt said.

And a few about the rival Dodgers, who are outspending the Giants by $70 million in payroll.

"It tells me that we won two World Series, and they're tired of it," he said. "And they're going to spend money to keep that from happening again."

Affeldt is more than happy to talk baseball. But his repertoire touches a lot more bases.

The columnist can be reached at (559) 441-6218, marekw@fresnobee.com or @MarekTheBee on Twitter.

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