05/24/2013 07:00 pm ET Updated May 27, 2013

Jeremy Affeldt, Giants Pitcher, On Baseball, Christianity And The City That Made Him A Better Man


This interview is part of HuffPostSF's My SF series profiling San Francisco's best, brightest and most interesting personalities.

Who: Jeremy Affeldt

Current Gig: Relief pitcher for the San Francisco Giants

Years in the Bay Area: Four

Neighborhood: East Bay

When Jeremy Affeldt started playing baseball, he hated San Francisco. As a conservative Christian, he bristled at the city's liberal ways -- especially its embrace of homosexuality.

"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 recently told The Associated Press.

As luck (or fate) would have it, he signed with none other than the San Francisco Giants in 2009. On the mound, Affeldt came out like a shot with a 28-inning scoreless streak in his first year with the team. And after recovering from an injury, he played a key role in winning both the 2010 and 2012 World Series for the Giants.

But his bigger transformation may have happened off the field. Affeldt, a lifelong advocate for social justice, began to reevaluate his mission, taking on some of San Francisco's biggest issues.

He became an ambassador for anti-human trafficking organization Not For Sale, and has inspired other athletes (including Giants pitcher Matt Cain) to do the same. And last week, Affeldt publicly repudiated his former homophobia, largely crediting San Francisco for his change of heart.

"I'll probably get a lot of flak from the church for it, but I believe I'm right," he said. "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. For me, it was an awesome deal."

Now he's detailed his life experiences in a new memoir To Stir A Movement: Life, Justice, and Major League Baseball. Affeldt sat down with The Huffington Post after a recent game to talk about baseball, the church's wrong turn and the city that's made him a better man.

Jeremy, you are a two-time World Series-winning pitcher. What in the world made you decide to write a book about social justice?
I love baseball, and I am so blessed to have the opportunity to play. But a baseball player is not who I am. When I first started playing pro ball I thought, "This is it?" Just pitching on the mound, going home and then pitching again? I know no one is crying for me, but I find that a shallow existence. If that's all there is, then you live and die with every win and loss. I wanted something bigger.

Do you think it's your responsibility to be a role model?
I hear a lot of athletes say they don't want to be role models. Well guess what? You are a role model. You may not be a good one, but you signed up for this. I want kids to view athletes positively. The four houses, the cars -- that's not what I want to do with this money.

Do you wish more athletes shared that mentality?
Yes I do, because then you wouldn't get this selfish mentality. Guys here get bored, and then you see them start thinking they're bigger than life, and that's where you get the problems. That's when you hear about guys shooting themselves in the foot at a nightclub, raping women, drunk driving. These things happen when you think you're bigger than everyone else and you're not.

You make no secret about your strong Christian faith, but you recently went against the church by denouncing your former homophobia. How do you balance your own beliefs against those of the church?
People refer to me as a Christian, but I don't know if I want to use that word. I have a personal relationship with Jesus, but some of those Christian rules are just not my cup of tea. I don't feel like God has asked me to join a religion. Religion can cause a lot of problems because whole theologies can come from one verse. There is a lot of judgment in the church.

What do you think the church could do differently?
I think they could live in grace. They have a hard time with that. Grace says there is no law, there are no 10 Commandments. Jesus just said to love God with all of your heart and soul and to love your neighbor as yourself, period. And if the church started doing that, oh man, things would change in a hurry.

You grew up with a conservative Christian background. Do you think living in San Francisco has given you a different perspective?
100 percent. For example, I've really reevaluated my thoughts on homelessness. I hear it, "Why don't they just go get a job?" I've said that before. But I started to understand what poverty does. It made me realize that I've had opportunities that many of these people didn't have. We are products of our environment.

I was hanging out at the teen homeless shelter up here, Larkin Street, and I learned that many of those kids were kicked out of their homes for being gay -- kicked out of their homes for who they are. Now you're on the street and everyone wants something from you and it's never something good. How do you recover from that? How do you just "go get a job?"

In a recent interview, you said that you originally did not like San Francisco. Has your perception changed?
Absolutely. This is an unbelievable city, because San Francisco is really trying to do things to help. Like at Larkin Street: that place takes these kids in and gives them food, job training, opportunities to get into city college. That's what programs like this do. San Francisco is an amazing city because it's supports sustainable change.

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