I’m a relief pitcher for the New York Yankees, which means I come in to put out the fire if another pitcher gets into trouble, usually late in the game. Sometimes, after a night game in the Bronx, I don’t get home from the stadium till after midnight.
It was 1:00 A.M. when my wife, Erin, and I walked in the door of our apartment April 28 last year.
“I’m going to bed,” Erin said.
“I’ll be in soon,” I said. I wanted to watch the news and unwind from the game. I flipped on the TV.
“An F5 tornado struck downtown Tuscaloosa early this evening,” the news anchor said.
“Erin, come quick!” I yelled.
Tuscaloosa was my home. I’d moved away when I became a ballplayer, but my entire family and most of my friends still live there. It’s where I first fell in love with the game, playing Little League. It’s where I learned to pitch, taking my high school team to the playoffs my senior year.
It’s where I played college ball for the University of Alabama, and started pulling my socks up high, old-school style. My picture even made it onto the wall at one of my favorite barbecue joints down the road from campus. It’s where I proposed to Erin.
It was home and always would be.
We spent the rest of the night on the phone making sure our friends and family were all okay. Finally I fell into bed exhausted, and prayed the most fervent prayer of my life. Lord, please help my hometown. And guide me in what I can do.
The next morning I woke up early to do a TV interview for the MLB Network, and spoke about the devastation.
“What can people do to help tornado survivors?” I was asked.
I paused, thinking about the U of A campus, the First Presbyterian Church downtown where my family belonged. My town, my people. “Prayers are a good start,” I said, “and the United Way. There’s a number that you can text to donate.”