With trade, Chris Archer leaves a legacy of community service

Chris Archer talks to the media at Tropicana Field after he was traded to the Pirates. [JIM DAMASKE   |   Times
Chris Archer talks to the media at Tropicana Field after he was traded to the Pirates. [JIM DAMASKE | Times ]
Published Aug. 1, 2018|Updated Aug. 1, 2018

ST. PETERSBURG — It was moving day for the Rays. Two more All-Stars out the door. What else was new? Catcher Wilson Ramos, on his way to the Phillies, packed a cardboard box. That's the business. That's the Rays' world.

Later, Chris Archer left the clubhouse to meet with the media. He was no longer a Ray, having been traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Rays received two good young players in return. It might work out quite well.

"Whenever I first got the news, it was definitely tough to hold back tears," Archer said. "Not because I'm sad that I'm leaving, but I hope I left a lasting impression here."

He did.

No, it's not like the Rays just traded Max Scherzer, or even David Price, Archer's idol and mentor. Archer, 29, leaves Tampa Bay in his seventh season as a two-time All-Star, but he never quite lived up to his stuff and promise. He talked like an ace, walked like an ace, but never quite was one, with a 54-68 career record and a 3.69 ERA.

But Tuesday was a moment to dig a little deeper, as Archer always has in this community. He hardly ever said No.

Maybe Archer didn't fulfill his link in the chain of great Rays pitchers, like Price or James Shields, but he meant something. I never saw him walk past a young fan without a smile. Sometimes he tried a little too hard with media to fill up notebooks. He'd get cosmic. Meanwhile, on Earth, he was 3-5 this season with a 4.31 ERA. Where was the beef?

Well, you saw it before Archer's last start here, against the Marlins, when he had 13 strikeouts and no walks. He had his good stuff. In some ways, He had good stuff before the game, too, as he comforted a young girl. Her name is Savannah Hogsten.

"… There is one fan who I always spend some time with," Archer said. "Her name is Savannah. She's 12 years old. She came to the game and she started crying in the bullpen because she heard on Facebook a week ago that it could my last time being at home. Having an impact on the organization, that's key, that's critical. But touching individual lives in this city is something that I'm all about, too."

Chris Archer, no matter what we thought of his pitching, was always all in. He was an ace at life, and it went beyond his own Archway Foundation.

Ask Vicki Sokolik, co-founder and executive director of Starting Right, Now, a bay area outreach program for children aged 15-19 who have been labeled as "unaccompanied adults," having fled their homes and family situations for one reason or another. The program is a safety net. It houses 40 children in Hillsborough County and 50 in Pinellas County.

"I'm kind of sobbing myself today," Sokolik said. "… The impact he had in this community is amazing. Chris was not a talker. He was a walker."

Sokolik is the cousin of Rays president Matt Silverman, who is chairman of the board for Starting Right, Now. It was Silverman who talked about the program with Archer, who was raised in the Raleigh, N.C. area after being adopted at age 2 by his maternal grandmother and her husband.

"Chris came to our event here three years ago, saw what we were doing, and wanted to get involved," Sokolik said. "He knows the kids in the program by name. He knows their stories. To see sports players who are not out there making fools of themselves, and then to see Chris walking into every event with a book in his hand, because he's reading, was a pretty powerful statement to my kids.

"He never walked in and said, 'Hey, I'm Chris Archer, I'm with the Rays.' It was always 'I'm Chris. I'm Vicki's friend.' The kids didn't even know who he was until one day when one of them said, 'Miss Vicki, your friend is on billboards!' That was just Chris. It was totally authentic. He changed lives. Absolutely."

Archer would visit the centers for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. He did public service announcements for the program. He asked for one thing in return.

"He told me, 'I really want this program in my hometown,' " Sokolic said. "So, we're in the middle of replicating it in North Carolina, in Raleigh."

Archer packed Tuesday. He's off to Pittsburgh. He'll go all in up there, too. He never truly found his pitching star here, never became a Price or a Shields or an Alex Cobb. But he mattered maybe where it mattered most. That's a good legacy. Tuesday, in a hall near the clubhouse, Archer thought of his friend Savannah.

"Wherever I'm at, I'll make sure she can come see me play. That's a classic example of what this city represents. We're a city, but it feels like a small town."

Chris Archer always made it feel a little smaller.

Contact Martin Fennelly at or (813) 731-8029