Baseball great takes on domestic violence in UC

Legendary manager Torre comes to town to help kids

When Joe Torre walked into the auditorium at Emerson Middle School on April 14, the room went wild.
Students put on put on a dance routine to 1950s classic music. Members of the school band pounded out a welcome on an assortment of drums.
But all of that was lost to the overwhelming cheers that almost rivaled anything Torre might have heard during his days managing his championship teams. A one-time player for the New York Mets, Torre earned his place in the Baseball Hall of Fame for his career as a manager in which his teams won four World Series and six American League Pennants between 1996 and 2007.
Although armed with baskets of baseballs to give away as gifts to students at Emerson, Torre had come to Union City in his capacity as the founder of the Joe Torre Safe At Home Foundation and its Margaret’s Place initiative, which he established in Union City in 2007.
He had come to accept a $65,000 grant from HopeLine from Verizon and the Verizon Foundation to help continue the program in Union City.

“Baseball was where I went to feel safe. It was something I had that other kids didn’t.” – Joe Torre
“I’m just sorry they gave me such a big check,” Torre joked after receiving the six-foot-long ceremonial check. “Otherwise I could have folded it up and put it in my pocket.”
Full of baseball quips, Torre, however, was very serious about promoting the program he started more than a decade ago, which has grown 11 sites in the region. Union City’s Margaret’s Place is the only program currently in New Jersey.

Designed to keep kids safe

The Safe At Home Foundation’s mission is to educate to end the cycle of domestic violence and save lives. Margaret’s Place is a comprehensive program that provides students with a safe room in school where they can meet with a professional trained in domestic violence intervention and prevention. Counselors also work with students to become peer leaders, so they can create greater awareness and understanding of the impact of domestic violence and violence-related issues on the school community.
HopeLine from Verizon connects survivors of domestic violence to vital resources, and funds organizations nationwide while protecting the environment. The funding comes from collecting no-longer-used wireless phones and accessories and turning them into support for domestic violence organizations. Through HopeLine, Verizon has donated thousands of phones and awarded millions of dollars in cash grants to partner agencies.
According Doug Schoenberger, vice president of Corporate Reasonability and Public Policy for Verizon, the company has donated $21 million to various charities since 2001.
Torre said doing the Margaret Place project would have been extremely difficult without the help Verizon provided.

Torre grew up in a house of fear

Margaret’s Place is named after Torre’s mother, Margaret, who was the victim of domestic violence when Torre was a kid. He said he never felt safe at home .
He grew up in Marine Park, Brooklyn, the youngest of five children. His father was a New York City police officer, who was also a bully. His mother suffered verbal and physical abuse. If he didn’t like the food she made, he would throw it against the wall. While Torre wasn’t physically abused, he grew up in fear because his mother was.
“I always felt responsible for it,” he said, during an interview with the Hudson Reporter in 2005 when he appeared in Bayonne and other places in Hudson County seeking to establish a site here. “I never thought I belonged anywhere. I never felt safe except on the ball field.”
His house, he said, was constantly full of tension and fear.
“You never knew what was going to happen,” he said.
While Torre’s father never abused him, he said, fear can hang over a house, creating a living hell for all who live in it.
“I didn’t know the full impact of this until recently when I went to counseling,” Torre told the kids in Union City this week.
He said he always felt helpless and alone, and for years felt ashamed and worthless. He didn’t know where to turn to or who to talk to about it.
“When I was a boy, I was afraid to talk about it,” he said. “I felt ashamed and responsible.”
Everything seemed to be secret, with his siblings constantly whispering about things, yet nothing ever really got said.
Fortunately, he had baseball to rely on – somewhere he could go and feel safe. This eventually led him to a career in professional baseball. But he never forgot his house and vowed not to let it happen to other kids, who did not have a place to go the way he did.
Torre and his wife, Ali, founded the Joe Torre Safe At Home Foundation in 2002.
“The way we can conuer and stop domestic violence is to form a team,” Torre told the Hudson Reporter in 2005. “If we grow up respecting one another, we will eventually end domestic vio¬lence. The more we talk about it, the more we’ll be likely to pick up a phone and tell a rela¬tive, a teacher or a counselor.”
Margaret’s Rooms are centers where kids have access to a counselor, but can choose simply to play a game, read, or if they are willing, share their experience.
“The idea is to get kids to talk about it,” Torre said.
While the centers may not be able to help the kids at home, he said, they can provide a place where kids can feel safe and talk about what they feel.
“By talking about it, they realize they are not alone,” he said. “I felt alone, like I was the only person this was happening to. I couldn’t talk about what was going on with anyone. While we can’t go home with the kid, we can have a place where the kid feels safe. That’s the point.”
Torre opened the Union City Margaret’s Place in 2007 with a donation $325,000 donation from Verizon. The $65,000 donation in 2015 is to keep the program running.

Not all gloom

But the visit was not depressing, despite the subject matter, and Torre took questions from students in a variety of subjects that included bullies and how to deal with them. But he also asked questions about baseball and gave regulation baseballs to those who responded. All students were given souvenir baseballs as they left the auditorium.
While not everybody knew about Torre’s baseball career in which he played for the St. Louis Cardinals, the Atlanta Braves and the New York Mets, most knew about his time on the Yankees.
“Baseball was where I went to feel safe,” Torre said in response to one question. “It was something I had that other kids didn’t. That’s why we established Margaret’s Place, to give kids a place where they can feel safe, too.”

Al Sullivan may be reached at

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