Role model status snuck up on leadoff man Connor Joe. But this month, which is celebrated as Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, there are reminders all around that Joe is setting the table for more than just the Rockies.
“Looking back to my childhood and turning on the TV, I’d see a lot of Asian players playing the game, but I’d learn that they were from places like Japan or Taiwan or Korea — you didn’t see too many Asian Americans,” said Joe, of Chinese descent. “I grew up in San Diego — a very diverse place with friends of diverse backgrounds, so I never thought twice about it.
“But thinking about it, you can see young Asian American kids turn on the TV and see a lot of players that don’t look like them. If they turn on the TV and see me playing, and it gives them inspiration to start Little League, go out there and have fun. I’m really proud about it.”
Joe is one of two Asian American players on the Rockies.
Right-handed relief pitcher Robert Stephenson’s mother, Rowena, is Filipino. Much like Joe, Stephenson does not recall seeing many Filipino Americans, although former Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum was prominent during his career. Also like Joe, Stephenson’s heritage was just part of normal diversity when he grew up in Martinez, Calif. He understands, though, in a time of increased and high-profile violence against Asian Americans, that expressing pride in his heritage has an impact.
“That’s probably why it’s been brought up a little more lately, which is sad that’s the reason why,” Stephenson said. “When I was growing up, it was never something I looked at and thought of as a good or a bad thing. Now, it’s pretty cool if someone sees me and sees baseball as an opportunity for them.”
AAPIHM is a good time for inspiring origin stories. Joe’s was detailed in a Rockies Magazine story published last season. His grandfather on his dad’s side came to the U.S. in the 1940s with little, then saved money to bring the rest of his family over. Grandparents on the mother’s side lived in New York. The close-knit family started a dry-cleaning business in Connecticut, sold it and moved the family west — where the Joes became restauranteurs in the San Diego area.
Now, Joe is not only inspiring young players. He’s living up to his inspirations.
“I’m very prideful of my background, and the sacrifices my grandparents made to afford us this opportunity,” Joe said. “If I’m not the role model that these kids can look up to, I’m doing my grandparents a disservice.”