PORT CHARLOTTE — When the quiet, blond-haired foster teen visited the Tampa Bay Rays training camp last spring, Chris Archer spent some time with him, playing catch, taping a quick video and sharing advice about a subject close to his heart: adoption.
Really, the Rays pitching ace said, he didn't do all that much.
But, in reality, others say, he did plenty. And because of Archer's effort, the 15-year-old boy named Zachary will become a permanent part of the Schreffler family today, ending 3 ½ hectic years in foster care, in a ceremony in Clearwater.
"Honestly, it meant everything," explained Hana Cowart, outreach manager for the Heart Gallery of Pinellas & Pasco, which works to increase adoptions of foster children. "Without that, I don't know that this family would exist. … So it's pretty incredible."
Zachary (whose last name is not being used because of foster care rules) had been living with his latest mom in Pinellas County and attending middle school last year, unsure if he even wanted to be adopted should the opportunity arise.
Heart Gallery officials picked Zachary to feature in their annual promotional campaign and when they found out he loved baseball, they reached out to the Rays to make just a generic "day in camp" visit for a video.
But when Rays officials paired Zachary with Archer, who himself was adopted by his maternal grandmother and her husband, the whole dynamic changed into something special.
And the resulting video, featuring Archer and Zachary, combined with a later interview of Zachary by Al Ruechel of Bay News 9, was what actually got the Schrefflers interested.
"I was kind of the bridge, the arch, to the whole connection," Archer said Sunday after meeting with Zachary and his new family after the first workout of the spring. "I didn't think it would have that great of an impact."
With two sons grown and out of their Niceville house in northwest Florida, Terri and Mark Schreffler, retired from Air Force jobs, were looking to adopt a teenager since hearing the 2013 heart-tugging tale of 15-year-old Davion Only's quest for a family, featured in the Tampa Bay Times.
After looking for nearly a year, they began doubting if they would find a match. But, one day last summer, they saw the video of Zachary and Archer on the Heart Gallery website and it all came together.
"You really got to see his personality," said Mark Schreffler. "For us it just meant a whole lot when he was talking to Chris and the reporter in there. … You could see how he felt about wanting a family, and we knew we could be that for him, so it looked like a good fit."
With the connection made, the Schrefflers came down to meet Zachary, taking him to Busch Gardens and a Rays game at Tropicana Field that Archer — serendipitously — was pitching.
It was a good fit. Zachary moved to Niceville in August in nonrelative custody to start the eighth grade, and — having his own room for the first time in foster care — has adapted well, recently being voted the classmate most likely to brighten your day.
The adoption will be the 296th arranged by the Heart Gallery of Pinellas & Pasco, which launched in 2006 and connected with the Rays through the efforts of former pitcher James Shields and his wife, Ryanne.
Archer was humbled to hear how much credit he got for influencing Zachary's willingness to be adopted, having stressed the positive aspects when they spoke and grateful the Rays put them together. (Had the Rays not started camp, Archer said he would have attended today's ceremony.)
Archer had a lot to talk about, given his own successful, and interesting, experience.
With his birth father not involved and his birth mother not ready to settle down, Archer was adopted at age 2 by his mother's mother and her new husband, who raised him as their own in the small southern town of Clayton, N.C. He speaks lovingly about the care and handling they provided, referring to them simply as his parents.
Zachary, politely shy to begin with, wasn't comfortable saying much Sunday with reporters and cameras around, but shared that Archer may not have been his favorite player before — but he certainly was now.
The Schrefflers, who wanted to tell their story in hopes of encouraging other families to adopt teenagers, are now clearly big fans of Archer, too.
"It was such a great gesture on the Rays' and Chris' part to put himself out there and the time that he took, you could tell that it meant a lot to Zach," Mark said. "Chris is just wonderful. We have a lot of respect for him and what he does. It's not even so much on the baseball end of things, just seeing what a person he is to be able to give to others."
Contact Marc Topkin at [email protected] Follow @ TBTimes_Rays.