SAN FRANCISCO — When Jeremy Affeldt came to the Bay Area as an opposing player, he refused to leave his hotel room aside from going to and from the ballpark. He was admittedly homophobic.
When he joined the San Francisco Giants five years ago, Affeldt became determined to get rid of his negative feelings toward the gay population. The transformation took time and a change of heart, given what he calls his “sheltered” upbringing in the Eastern Washington city of Spokane. Now, Affeldt is more than comfortable saying he was wrong to judge a community based solely on sexual orientation.
The ex-military brat said Monday he was so uncomfortable in San Francisco that he would seclude himself.
“I didn’t leave my hotel room when we came to play the Giants or A’s. I didn’t want to go out or see anyone,” he said. “There was a profession of being wrong. I’ve come to that from a deep angle. I’ll probably get a lot of flak from the church for it, but I believe I’m right.”
Affeldt reveals these experiences in his recently released book, “To Stir a Movement:” Life, Justice, and Major League Baseball.” In the book, he also acknowledges how he returned $500,000 to the Giants after a typo in the contract gave him an accidental bonus before the 2010 season.
“Integrity-wise, it wasn’t a hard decision for me,” Affeldt said.
Affeldt is thrilled to have re-signed with the Giants over the offseason for three more years.
“There’s a chapter in there of me coming to San Francisco and being hesitant because I had homophobia, and now I don’t,” he said. “I see more San Francisco as a city of love and a city of passion and compassion. It’s unbelievable this city. To see that and to have my heart change as a city I didn’t ever want to come to, to a city that I’m so thankful I’m going to be part of for a long time, it talks about that. For me, it was an awesome deal.”
And getting a nice payday now has nothing to do with the money he gave back years ago.
He insists he would make the same choice again to return the $500,000 – an easy one.
“For me, it was,” he said. “(My publicist, Kathy Jacobson) sent me an article from the U.K. and the title was, `The Most Honest Athlete in America.’ If that’s true, we have a really bad reputation as athletes. Because I wouldn’t say I’m the most honest athlete in America. I’m not saying I’m dishonest. I understand $500,000 isn’t $500 or $5, $500,000 is a lot of money.
“It was never mine in the first place. I didn’t take it and give it back. I just said no to the thing that legally was binding and said, `No, I can’t have it.’ It’s dirty money. Legally I might be able to have it, but it’s not what we negotiated. The reality is there might be a job at stake, someone might have lost their job over that.”
He begins his book and life story in Thailand, where, in a split second, Affeldt – about 10 at the time – had his arm grabbed by a man and pulled toward a building as he fought to get away only to have his dad catch up and help him get away.
Affeldt has become a strong supporter of efforts to stop sex trafficking, and believes that’s where he could have been headed that day. His father was stationed in Guam at the time, so they traveled regularly in Asia.
From his younger years, Affeldt shares his experiences growing up as a cocky, angry high school athlete to eventually finding his Christian spiritual life that guides him in all he does today as a professional athlete, husband and father of three young boys.
Affeldt, who turns 34 next month, also now has gay friends and colleagues.
He began to change his thinking during one season spent in Cincinnati during 2008. A gay Starbucks employee befriended Affeldt’s oldest son, Walker, learned the boy’s name and kept Walker smiling and giggling.
“I’m going to look at a group of people who maybe don’t share the same views as I do morally but the reality is there is no difference, none,” he said. “They’re human beings, and I’m going to love on them just as God told me to love all human beings. I’m not going to sit there and worry about all that other garbage. It’s a matter of love your neighbor as yourself.”
Affeldt is already working on a second book, called “No Man,” which he describes as “no man shall live for himself.”
“There’s a reason why I live under that, and that’s my whole mission,” he said. “Think of other people before you think of yourself. The second book is basically my legacy book. If I were to die and my kids wanted to know what I stood for, I want them reading that book. This book is basically a precursor to that, because it is all about growing up and seeing how my life was fashioned in my spirituality, my views of God and how I believe.”