Every now and again, there’s a story from within the baseball community that rises above the daily play-by-play and race to the World Series that puts an important focus on the incredible work MLB teams and fans are doing for our communities. Joe La Rocca, an 11-year-old Mets fan, is one of those stories.
If you’re in the Nats family, you’ve probably seen the video posted by Joe’s father, when Max and Joe played a game of catch while the team was at Citi Field in May. Since then, the video has been shared far and wide, with countless Nats fans reaching out to the La Roccas thanking them for sharing it. For those of us with an appropriate level of fierce rivalry between the teams, Joe reminded us why we love the game so much in the first place. There is nothing quite like seeing a kid get to watch a professional athlete, let alone play catch with one.
But there’s a part of the story not everyone knows about. Max launched a new Autographs & Athletes program earlier this year for his fans to get their favorite baseball items signed after making a donation to Polaris. Max wanted to sign the ball for Joe, so we reached out to his dad, told him to mail the ball to Polaris, and made it clear that this was a special exception and there was no need to make a donation.
Fast forward to June 29th when Max pitched against (and beat) the Mets at Nats Park. Joe had held off on mailing in the ball because he and his dad had been invited to the game, as well as out onto the field during batting practice. Max an Joe were finally able to meet, and Max eagerly signed the ball they had played catch with earlier in the season.
That’s when Joe handed a Nationals employee an envelope addressed to Polaris with $25 inside. It turns out that after his dad told him about our Autographs & Athletes program, Joe decided on his own to save up his allowance across five weeks. He made his own donation to help fund Polaris’s operation of the National Human Trafficking Hotline so survivors can continue to be connected with services across America.
To say we were struck by his generosity is an understatement.
The fight against human trafficking in the US and throughout the world is a steep battle. In fact, the International Labor Organization estimates that 20.9 million people are held in various forms of human trafficking worldwide in a criminal industry that reaps $150 billion a year in profits. $25 might not seem like a lot to some, but it in the face of so much exploitation and trauma, Joe spotlights the humanity at the core of the movement against this crime. And he proves that you don’t need to be a grownup to take a stand against modern slavery.
Since moving to DC in 2015, Max and I have been struck by the overwhelming generosity of the team and fans throughout the region. It truly is a family, and the Nationals have made it a priority to be intricately involved in our community with a focus on giving back to the vulnerable populations around us. And we see now that this charity extends all the way up to New York.
As for Joe, he should serve as an inspiration for others as we follow his lead and get involved in this issue.
Though, I will say, we caught one of his media interviews where he maintained the Mets are still his favorite team. So, here’s to also hoping he ditches the Mets and accepts his inner Natitude.
Blog: Flickr / Sean Winters