Royals pitcher Brad Keller was taught about sex trafficking while in high school, but it was an experience in his hometown that really opened his eyes.
A friend was driving around Flowery Branch, Georgia, at 2 a.m. when he spotted an semi truck.
“Eighteen wheelers don’t drive through small towns, so he followed the 18-wheeler around and witnessed some stuff go down, called the cops,” Keller recalled. “The cops came through and busted the whole thing, and that jump started our awareness in our hometown. It’s always been something we’ve watched out for.”
So when the Royals agreed to partner with Strike Out Slavery, an organization started by Albert and Deidre Pujols to educate people about modern-day slavery, Keller quickly agreed to act as a player ambassador.
The Royals will play host to a Strike Out Slavery event at Kauffman Stadium on Aug. 17 that includes a postgame concert by Lauryn Hill.
Strike Out Slavery will not seek donations at the event, but various organizations will have booths around the stadium to educate fans on human trafficking, which is described as “the commercial exploitation of a person through the use of force, fraud or a former of coercion.”
One of the groups expected to be at the stadium is Exodus Cry, which has the aim of breaking commercial sexual exploitation.
Benjamin Nolot, the CEO/founder of Exodus Cry, noted that a trafficking ring in Kansas City was broken up in 2007. He also quoted a UMKC study that found there are 3,500 adult victims at any given time. Nolot called slavery a $150 billion a year industry and estimated that 40 million people in 167 countries are in slavery today, including as many as 400,000 people in the United States.
“This issue of slavery is the fastest-growing criminal enterprise in the world,” Nolot said.
Keller, who took part in a news conference Friday at Kauffman Stadium to announce the Strike Out Slavery event with Angels star Albert Pujols, said he was made saddened to hear how the issue effects Kansas City.
“It’s really eye-opening to hear it’s in your back yard and then coming to a great city like Kansas City and hearing the facts here, you just want to help the community as much as possible,” Keller said.
Pujols was unaware of the scope of the problem until his wife educated him about the issue. He is one of three Major League Baseball player ambassadors for Strike Out Slavery, which was started in 2017. Keller and Mets second baseman Robinson Cano are the others.
A graduate of Fort Osage High School, Pujols hopes all 30 major-league teams will have an ambassador one day.
“I know that many people say, ‘Well, you’re a young guy,’” Pujols said to Keller, “but you don’t have to be a veteran guy to step up and be a leader. I admire you for you to come aboard and to share your passion with the team and with us and partner on this cause.”
“I’m kind of from this area,” Pujols said of Kansas City. “I consider this my home. This is where I came when I was 16 years old. I have been here since then, and just to come here and have this event at this ballpark around the area that I grew up is pretty important for me and my wife.”