Rays’ Player Helps Teen Embrace Adoption
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. – Chris Archer’s occupation, on paper, might be All-Star pitcher, Tampa Bay Rays, but by the time he leaves this earth, he wants you to forget he ever was a ballplayer.
Bob Nightengale, USA TODAY Sports
“Baseball is not my purpose,’’ Archer told USA TODAY Sports. “It goes beyond this. Baseball is in my life for a reason. I’m talented, I’m skilled at it, and I’m glad I identified that.
“But my purpose in life is to positively impact as many people as I can. If we can all do that, the world itself will be a better place.’’
Archer, a spiritual man with no religious affiliation, a voracious reader with a diverse palate, is perpetually searching for answers.
He signed with the Indians out of high school in 2006, but his intellectual curiosity and discourse far exceed a typical major leaguer.
“I find there is some truth in everything I read,’’ said Archer, whose favorites this past winter were Man’s Search for Meaning and The Sports Gene. “I can learn fromCharlie Manson’s autobiography as much as I can learn from Martin Luther King’s autobiography. Malcolm Gladwell said it best one time: ‘Every book is a self-improvement book, depending how you can look at it.’
“The Power of Now was life-changing, and I AM: The Power of Discovering Who You Really Are, allowed me to develop the infinite potential mentality, like every moment has unlimited possibilities. The Alchemist challenged me to find out my true purpose, my personal legend.
“I like to dedicate an hour each day just to educate myself in some way.’’
Sometimes, just to learn more about himself.
This is a 27-year-old African American adopted at age 2, raised by his maternal grandmother and step-grandfather, both white, in the South. He grew up believing his biological mom was his older sister. He finally met his biological father three years ago, only to walk away after the meeting and never look back.
“I know it was different, real different, but I wouldn’t change a thing,’’ Archer says. “I’m happy about everything that happened and led me down this path.
“That whole experience shaped me to who I am today. I couldn’t ask for a better life.’’
‘This doesn’t happen without Chris’
Zachary Watson, 15, who will be a high school freshman this fall, has been in and out of foster care and group homes for most of his life.
The Heart Gallery of Pinellas & Pasco foundation in the Tampa Bay area, which tries to find permanent homes for foster home kids, brought Zachary to spend a day last spring at the Rays spring training camp. He would be Archer’s little brother for a day, wearing Rays gear and shadowing him. They spent a lot of time talking, never too deep, but Archer shared his own experience. They even filmed a video together.
“I could see he was dealing with some rejection issues,’’ Archer said, “so I tried to put in a positive light what it’s all about. Show him being adopted isn’t a negative.’’
Five months later, after the video aired on local TV and the foundation’s website, Zachary was living with Mark and Terri Schreffler, a retired Air Force family, in Niceville, Fla.
This past Monday, they were all standing together in the Pinellas County Justice Center in Clearwater, Fla.
Zachary was officially adopted.
“We had been looking for about three years to adopt a teenager,’’ said Mark Schreffler, “but we were starting to lose hope. It looked like it was never going to happen.
“Then, we saw that video. This doesn’t happen without Chris.’’
The Schreffler family came down to the opening of the Rays’ spring-training camp and thanked him.
“I just wanted to help, but I never thought it would lead to changing Zach’s life,’’ Archer said. “Now, he’s been given the biggest gift in his life. If they’re good parents, they can reshape the entire outlook of his life.’’
Archer’s role in that sequence is far from an aberration.
“His community stuff is mind-boggling,’’ Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “You walk into the Children’s Hospital, and the nurses there will tell you, “Oh, he just left.’ Nobody knew he was even there. He would just walk in, see some kids, bring some coffee and donuts, and quietly leave.’’
Just before spring training, Archer was at the All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, yet again.
Archer was actually pushing a coffee cart around the halls for the nurses on the late shift.
“‘I prefer to do things with no media members around, especially the cameras,’’ Archer said. “It makes the kids shy. You don’t want go to a children’s hospital, and the kids not really feeling good about the way they look, and then have a camera in their face.
“It’s not going to make them open up and have a good time.’’
This is a guy who conducted clinics at six RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities) academies on Rays’ road trips last season. He makes visits to the local juvenile detention center. He’s involved in everything from his nonprofit Archway Foundation to the United Way; to the YMCA to the Police Athletic League; to children’s reading groups to Major League Baseball goodwill trips.
“I try to hit everybody,’’ Archer said. “Privileged, not as privileged. Normal. Adopted like myself. Everybody.
“If the door is open, why not? You never know how far it can go, but you may inspire someone to change their ways, to alter someone’s life, not to follow the path of negativity around them. To make a difference.’’
It’s no different in the clubhouse. The first day of camp, rookie pitchers Blake Snell and Jacob Faria walked into the clubhouse at 8:28 in the morning, with the first meeting scheduled at 9:15.
Archer told them it was unacceptable, even though they didn’t have to be on the field for another 45 minutes. He arrived at 6:30 that morning, and teammates Alex Cobbwas even 30 minutes earlier. Former Rays aces James Shields and David Price were always the first arrivals.
“Those are All-Stars, Cy Youngs, $217 million,’’ Archer told them, citing Price’s contract he signed with the Boston Red Sox in November. “You guys are the last two pitchers here. You guys have zero service time. You got no right to be coming in after me, really. I wouldn’t expect you to be here at 6:30. But 8:30?’’
The rookies thanked Archer, and Archer later got a telephone call from Price, his former teammate and mentor. Price loved the message, but only next time, do it in private.
“He’s a very, very special guy,’’ Price told USA TODAY Sports. “Just his passion for the game of baseball, his passion for his teammates, his passion for his community, really, his passion for life.
“He had a different upbringing, and for him to get be able to get through that, and turn into the person who he turned into today, to realize the impact that he has on people’s lives, that’s incredible.
“He’s a different breed.’’
Archer, who used to keep his hair close-shaven, and is now letting it grow wild, jokes that he may need a baseball cap two sizes bigger this season to keep everything under the lid.
He’s his own man, refusing to let traditional boundaries get in the way of life. He earned critical acclaim for his television work during the 2015 postseason, but his interests indicate a post-pitching career beyond the booth.
He doesn’t closely follow politics, but says, “It’s hard for me to believe the political system is the way they say it is.’’
He doesn’t belong to a church or have a traditional religion, but studies them all.
“My parents never really put any religion on me,’’ Archer said, “so all I do is seek, and use what speaks to me until I find that one thing, the one all-encompassing thought or belief, that describes who I am.
“I want to read other people’s accounts. I want to read all kinds of different philosophies, and different religions and spiritual practices.
“I want to develop my own thoughts, and not be so influenced by society.’’
He grew up in Clayton, N.C., not even realizing he was different than his blonde-hair, blue-eyed parents until middle school. His adopted mother, Donna Archer, is his maternal grandmother, and his adopted father, Ron Archer, his step-grandfather.
“Sure, there were questions,’’ Archer said. “But when you’re young, you never even notice that stuff. I didn’t know any different. It’s not until people start asking you. ‘Wait a minute, I am different.’
“You don’t see color when you’re a kid.’’
Archer’s biological mother, Sonya Clark, who gave birth to him at the age of 19, has two more children. He sees her occasionally in North Carolina, and during the holidays. His biological father, Darryl Magnum, a Raleigh, N.C., firefighter, has three other kids with three different women. He met him for the first time three years ago.
It was the last time.