Jamie and Karen Moyer - Philadelphia Phillies pitcher and philanthropists
How faith helps one family juggle career, kids, and caring for others
By Traci Neal
Following a disappointing finish in the 2009 World Series last season and a short winter break, the Philadelphia Phillies plan to hit the field hard this month in Florida. If all goes well, lefty pitcher Jamie Moyer will join the Phils after an injury on the mound during the playoffs forced him to watch his team lose to the Yankees from the bench.
But Moyer, who at age 47 is the oldest active player in the Major Leagues, didn’t spend his off-season nursing his wounds. Instead, in between surgeries, Moyer helped move his family — including his eight children — to Florida where they could be closer to him, and along with his wife, Karen, 44, continued to promote the nonprofit Moyer Foundation (moyerfoundation.org), which helps children in distress. Through the foundation, which was founded in 2000, the Moyers have opened nearly 40 bereavement camps in 28 states, created for children and teens who are grieving the death of a loved one, and Camp Mariposa, for children affected by addiction in their families.
Just after the World Series, the Moyers spoke with Catholic Digest about the life of a professional baseball family, the work of their foundation, and their Catholic faith.
Besides the World Series, what has the Moyer family been up to?
Karen: Since July it’s been crazy with the adoption (editor’s note: The Moyers brought their eighth child, 3-year-old Yenifer, home from Guatemala in August) and a mission trip; then I took the kids to see the Dalai Lama during a 36-hour trip up to Canada; my husband got hurt and so it’s been kind of a whirlwind. I was sleeping in the hospital with him.
Do you have any idea what happened on the pitcher’s mound to cause the injury?
Jamie: I was just coming off a pitch. I don’t know why it happened. But I’ll get through it. I’m very fortunate to be able to play as long as I have.
Your family’s faith is very strong. Where does that come from?
Karen: Since I was 5, I grew up around the University of Notre Dame (editor’s note: Karen’s dad is former longtime Fighting Irish basketball coach Digger Phelps), going to Mass, being part of campus ministry, having priests over for dinner. On and off during my life, especially during the Lenten season, I attend daily Mass. I am entirely led by the Lord in everything I do.
Jamie: I grew up going to Sunday school and church, but I’m not from a Catholic family. Then I met Karen, who is very Catholic. When we decided to get married we knew we would raise our children Catholic, so I converted. Our faith as a family is very important to us.
How do you incorporate your faith into everyday life?
Karen: I try to go to daily Mass when I can. I go to church no matter where we are, any city, any country. Our family has seen Mass in many languages. We say prayers at mealtime and bedtime, remember those less fortunate, and I constantly remind the children about what Christ did for all of us.
Jamie: During the season sometimes it’s difficult to find a Mass when I’m traveling. At some ballparks they have a Catholic Mass, and there’s also a baseball chapel in every ballpark on a Sunday. A lot of the organizations also have Bible study for players and wives.
When did you begin to get involved with charitable work?
Jamie: We’ve always been involved with charity work as a couple in some way, shape, or form. As I got into professional sports, someone would ask, “Hey, would you go to a school and visit with these kids?” or “Would you make a visit to a hospital?” As you get older and start to mature, you begin to understand the positive things you can do to help people who are in less fortunate situations or in situations that they don’t necessarily ask to be in.
Have your children been involved with the charity work?
Karen: Yes, absolutely! They have all volunteered at the Moyer Foundation. Together we help serve at a shelter on Thanksgiving, and last Christmas we took the kids to Guatemala for mission work at our daughter’s orphanage. The two older boys have shared a mission trip alone with Mom — one to Guatemala and one to Africa.
How did you decide that helping children would be the mission of the Moyer Foundation?
Karen: I’ve always loved children, clearly, and I have a bunch of my own. I think that is something that has always been near and dear to me and Jamie. Just to get to know the children through the different causes we’ve helped…they just fill my heart. I believe every child deserves an opportunity because they are all victims of circumstance, whether born into a situation or victims of their health. Most of their distress is heartbreaking. If we can make it better for them, that’s what I hope to do. Even more of a part of that is the social responsibility I feel, whether it’s because of my faith or my sense of obligation or just to make the world a better place.
Can you tell me about Erin, a child you visited in the hospital and got to know? Why do you think she touched you both so much?
Karen: Erin, she was a special young woman in our life. Erin was dying of cancer and she wanted to help her siblings, who were grieving. She was so filled with faith. A 17-year-old knowing she’s dying, and she comforted us. We were the ones who were scared and sad. That is true faith — to know you are going to a better place, (to say, essentially,) “God is calling me and before I go, I can give you some of my wishes, which would be to help other children go through difficult times like my sisters are.” Camp Erin evolved the next year. I went to the hospice her family used and said, “We have an idea. We want to open a camp.” They kind of stared at us, like, You’re giving us a free camp to help children?
Why did you decide that a bereavement camp was the way you would honor her memory?
Jamie: We were finding through research that when a death occurs in a child’s family, there isn’t a lot out there for them. A lot of kids fall through the cracks or get lost in the system and really never grieve. A lot of kids feel they are the only ones going through it. When they come to camp and they’re surrounded by 40, 50, 60 other kids, they can say, “Wow, I’m not the only one dealing with this.”
Karen: To have made this camp available to them where grief is the thing that everybody has to deal with, to be empowered by others who have gone through the same thing you have, is a beautiful thing to witness. How they show up as strangers on Friday night and by Sunday, they go home as best friends. Understanding it’s OK to move on, and it’s OK to cry and remember, and to know they’re not alone. Their parents tell us, “You gave me back my child.”
What are your future plans for Camp Erin?
Karen: We hope to have 60 camps by 2012.
How do you keep from becoming a stereotypical celebrity family?
Jamie: In 1993, we had just had our first child a year before and I was visiting a child in the hospital. I walked into his room and I was speechless. Gregory is 19 now but he was 2 at the time. He had a very rare form of leukemia, and I could see he was very sick. I thought, How unfortunate is this little boy and how fortunate is our little boy. It really hit home for me. My family also helps me keep things in balance. To be able to walk out of the clubhouse, maybe I’m not feeling the best, and my wife gives me a hug and a kiss, and the kids run up and say, “Daddy! I missed you!” That brings a smile to my face immediately.
Karen: Jamie and I said, “We’re just going to be true to ourselves and true to what the Lord expects us and wants us to do.” When I see [people] getting overwhelmed with things that I probably was overwhelmed with in my younger years, I think, I’ll bet a trip to the children’s hospital would change that. If you have something in your life that reminds you of how good things can be and how absolutely bad things can be, I think that helps to center you.
Given your numerous commitments, how do you prioritize, especially where the children are concerned?
Jamie: We just go with it, try to make things work to the best of our abilities. Yes, sometimes it’s tough. I look at it sometimes and think, Wow, we’re missing some time with our children. We tell them, “We want you to know we’re helping others,” and “Thank you for sharing us and allowing us to share with others,” and maybe we’re setting good examples for our own children in that respect.
How do you think “normal” (non-celebrity, average income) families can give back, as you’ve done?
Karen: I always tell people, “First of all, it’s really good to understand it’s our social responsibility to want to make it a better world. Second, everybody has time, talent, or treasure to share. It can be as simple as stuffing envelopes. The third thing you need to investigate about yourself is your passion.”
What’s planned for the Moyer family in the future?
Karen: In the next six months, I’ll be negotiating my own television show, and then I have a couple of business propositions in front of me, a Web site thing, other things to help athletes’ wives, I am hoping to open a spin studio (indoor stationary bicycling) in Florida. I always have a charity project going on. I’m contemplating a cookbook of All-Star athletes.
You know most people don’t accomplish all that in a lifetime.
Karen: It’s truly how I live life; I get the most out of it. I think it’s such a gift. My days are always full. I’m always one to tell my kids to make it a good day instead of have a good day. CD
Photo courtesy of the Philadelphia Phillies