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Inspired to Provide Another Kind of Relief

The Yankees right-hander refused to stand by when his hometown was ravaged by a tornado.

By David Robertson, St. Petersburg, Fla.

As appeared in

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.

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“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.”

I headed to the stadium for our game. I did several interviews with the media that day to help raise money and awareness. I’d much rather have jumped on a plane to Tuscaloosa, but I’d be busy playing ball through September, hopefully longer. Any real help I could provide would have to wait.

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Yet at that moment I felt so powerless. God and the United Way were a pretty good start, but wasn’t there more Erin and I could do? Dejected, I called Erin and told her how I felt.

She was silent a moment. “Then let’s get involved, David. Now. Let’s start a fund. You’ve got a platform.”

After the game that night we brainstormed a name for our foundation and came up with High Socks for Hope. (I wear my uniform socks up to my knees, remember.) Erin got started on a website, highsocksforhope.com.

“For every strikeout I get, I’m pledging one hundred dollars,” I told reporters. I talked about it as much as I could, and since I was having the best season of my career I got to talk a lot, even at the All-Star Game later that year.

Donations came in. Erin connected with all the organizations providing assistance to the victims, including a woman named Judy Holland at a church in town. She put us in touch with people who needed help and saw to it that the money we raised went directly to them.

More than anything, though, I needed to be on the ground. We landed in Tuscaloosa late one Thursday night a month after the storm hit. My team was traveling to Seattle and it was the first day we hadn’t had a game since April 27.

I jumped at the opportunity to visit, even if I had only 24 hours. We asked a film crew to join us. The Yankees organization was so helpful in getting the word out.

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“I’ll drive,” I said, but I had a terrible time even finding my way. Street signs were gone. So were age-old landmarks. Entire neighborhoods were reduced to rubble. It was a wasteland.

The place where my family always bought our Christmas trees looked like it had been through a giant wood chipper. My heart was in my mouth. Erin squeezed my arm.