As I’ve described, my first few years as a professional athlete were filled with struggle. I wasn’t very happy. Now I’m so happy with my job! I’m happy because I do it with an attitude of loving my neighbor as myself. I get to play baseball with the understanding that I’m playing to serve God and my neighbor, and there is freedom in that.
After I first met Dave Batstone and joined up with the Not For Sale Campaign, we started brainstorming ideas to connect baseball and modern abolition.
Dave told me, “We want to start a Free2Play program. We can ask athletes to join us and become part of a variety of initiatives. They can participate by setting goals for themselves and then rewarding themselves by donating to the Free2Play program. We’ll use the money to build basketball courts for kids that we’ve rescued from slavery. We can do basketball courts in these villages in Thailand or Colombia, or we can build baseball fields or soccer fields, or whatever these kids want to do. Because when we rescue these kids, we just want them to be kids again. They’ve been put in adult situations for so long, at such young ages, that when we rescue them, we just want to let them play. Play will stir their minds to dream again.”
I heard that and I said, “I’m in!” The first guy I called was Matt Holliday, who’s a good friend of mine. He was with Oakland back then. I asked him to jump in, and he did. He joined the Free2Play program with me. For the first year or two, we were the only two Major League ballplayers involved. Then last year we were able to get 22 more. Twenty-two Major League Baseball players joined us!
When I went around the churches during spring training last year to recruit for the Free2Play program, I gave the players a simple message. I told them, “Look, you guys have been given the ability to dream. These kids have not. It wasn’t their call to be born into these situations. They didn’t raise their hands and volunteer for the poverty lifestyle. Just as it wasn’t my call to be born into a great family that allowed me to dream, and to become what I wanted to become.”
We forget that. As human beings sometimes, we forget. We might look at children in poverty and say, “Man! That stinks for them.” But that’s not what the Bible counsels. The Bible says there will always be the poor among us. We need to help out. We have more than enough. We have more than most human beings will ever have. And when you’ve been given much, much is expected. That is what our calling as a church means.
I started doing these things, and more, with Not For Sale. And I have been learning. I am witnessing so much joy. And I feel so good to know that we are taking these kids out of terrible situations. We are working to rescue men, women, and children from suffering and real despair. I feel so good about what I am doing that I have finally said, “This is what I’m called to be.” And I’m happy! See you Monday.