The fight against human trafficking continues to have a former Major League Baseball pitcher on its side.
Jeremy Affeldt, who wrapped up a 14-year career in 2015 with the San Francisco Giants, came to Clovis on Saturday to share his work in the fight against human trafficking. He reminded the audience – about 600 people – that it’s an issue that should not be overlooked.
“This is a huge issue in your country,” Affeldt told the audience at Clovis Hills Community Church. “Do not look over at Asia or Africa, this is your city – Fresno.”
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His work on behalf of the cause began in 2006 after he moved to Denver, a midseason trade sending him from the Kansas City Royals to the Rockies. He said he came across a 16-year-old girl who had ripped jeans and a bruised eye.
Affeldt, on his way to a Starbucks, stopped and tried to talk to the girl, but she was scared. He told her he wanted to help at least with some food and she accepted. Affeldt said he gave her a blueberry muffin and a drink, drawing a response that stopped him in his tracks.
“When she said, ‘Thank you,’ it was not ‘Thank you for the food,’ ” Affeldt said. “It was, ‘Thank you for letting me know that I exist.’ ”
In those days, Affeldt said, he was not always happy and often wondered about his purpose in life beyond being a professional athlete. After his chance encounter, he realized he needed to be a voice for those who rarely get the chance to speak up on their own.
“When I put on my uniform from that day on, I remembered that girl and I said, ‘I’m going to do whatever I can do to make an impact in the community,’ ” he told the audience. “I’m playing to earn a platform and a voice that is loud enough to bring an impact to the community – to help people that are hurting.”
Affeldt’s visit came at a key time. An ongoing investigation of human trafficking by The Bee includes this alarming assessment from Fresno police: “Every 16-year-old girl in Fresno” has been targeted by sex trade recruiters.
“They’re recruited while sitting next to their parents in the living room. Mom or Dad may be reading the newspaper or watching TV while she’s on her phone,” Sgt. Curt Chastain told The Bee.
Affeldt said that the church has an obligation to help people who have been harmed by human trafficking, an issue he has learned is rampant just about everywhere. He said he began researching the issue after he came across that teenager in Colorado.
“When people are being harmed and abused, the church has to step in, because that is who we are,” he said.
Affeldt took time after his speech to meet with audience members and fans.
Among the groups in attendance were several nonprofits dedicated to the cause, including Breaking the Chains. Founder and CEO Debra Rush said nine women who had fallen victim to human trafficking were there Saturday.
Those victims were brought to tears, she said, when Affeldt vowed to continue the fight.
Hearing someone such as Affeldt speak out is important to Rush, and to victims, she said, because not everyone is aware of why they should care about the issue.
Even if some in the audience were there as baseball fans, she hopes they left with some knowledge of the fight against human trafficking.
“They’ve been educated on a whole new level, and hopefully this will allow them to also pick up the same social justice platform,” Rush said.
As for those who have lived through the human trafficking experience?
“They are inspired,” Rush said, “they are in awe, and just really excited to see someone of (Affeldt’s) influence and affluence caring about them.”