When Chris Singleton was released by the Chicago Cubs on March 23, he saw it as a new beginning.
"My impact does not stop on the field," Singleton said in a Twitter video he posted shortly after. "I know that I'm not just a ballplayer. I'm much more than that."
Two weeks later, Singleton landed a job as the Charleston RiverDogs' community outreach director. It's an ideal position for the 22-year-old former outfielder, who grew up in nearby Goose Creek, South Carolina, and attended Charleston Southern University. Singleton was 19 years old and entering his sophomore year when his mother, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, was killed during the racially-motivated 2015 mass shooting at Charleston's Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. In the wake of that gut-wrenching day, Singleton publicly forgave his mother's killer and subsequently devoted his life to spreading the message that "Love is stronger than hate." His new job with the RiverDogs gives him the chance to do just this, all while remaining within the game he loves.
The RiverDogs, Class A affiliate of the New York Yankees, play their home opener Thursday against the Greensboro Grasshoppers. Singleton began working for the team three days prior and said that the RiverDogs are "just throwing me right in there."
It's the latest chapter in what has been a whirlwind young adulthood for Singleton, who, as he often says on Twitter, #CantLetMomsDown. Since her murder, he's become a sought-after public speaker, served as a caregiver for his two younger siblings, played two seasons of Minor League Baseball, mourned the death of his father and become a father himself. His son, C.J., was born in October 2017; at that point in time he and his high school sweetheart Mariana De Andrade were engaged to be married. He and De Andrade tied the knot in February in a ceremony that was televised live on the Lifetime Network's "My Great Big Live Wedding."
"I've gone through quite a lot. It's molded me to be stronger than most because I've been through what most haven't," he said. "I've got a great support system, and my wife has been there with me for six and a half years. I've never felt overwhelmed."
RiverDogs president Dave Echols had long been impressed by Singleton and his message of forgiveness and love.
"For us this goes back, unfortunately, to the [Emanuel A.M.E.] tragedy. We were in the middle of a homestand when that happened," Echols said. "And what came out of that for us was the Holy City RiverDogs [alternate Sunday identity]. It was a way to celebrate Charleston as the Holy City, with all its religion, the steeples, the historical aspect. A way to celebrate togetherness and put aside our differences. Because of that, there was constant outreach with Emanuel A.M.E. and, in this case, Chris. He was playing baseball with Charleston Southern, and we knew them and their staff well. ... We kept running into each other the last couple years, got to know each other and I got to know what he was trying to do. His vision, his message, speaking all over the country and all over the world.
"When Chris got released by the Cubs, we got to talking. I just wanted to learn what he was focusing on, if he was truly done with baseball. It was something to explore, to talk about what each of us was trying to do. He has such a natural connection here, he's a natural fit in our market, and can use baseball to help spread his message. After two meetings we worked it out. It's pretty exciting."
Chris Singleton, who spent 2018 with the South Bend Cubs, is leaving his playing days behind.
Singleton received some interest from other teams after his release, but he has no regrets about leaving his playing days behind.
"To be done playing is sad, but I can still fulfill my mission of speaking to kids, churches, different organizations," he said. "And to still be doing that in baseball is really cool. Right now, we're talking about me heading the [RiverDogs] youth baseball program, as well as getting churches out to the ballgame. That's hand-in-hand with my mission, with me being a believer. I was already doing speaking engagements, but now I'm doing it on behalf of the RiverDogs. Now I have a team backing me in the community of Charleston."
Echols said that the RiverDogs will support Singleton as he continues to spread his message not just in the Charleston community, but in the world at large.
"I've been having conversations with people [about Singleton's hiring], calling it a 'win-win,'" he said. "But thinking about it, it doesn't have to be looked upon as 'win-win.' We're not looking for that; it's just the right thing to be doing. It's a good opportunity to bring a young, positive, energetic individual on staff and support what he wants to do. We just think it's the right thing."
Singleton thinks so, too.
"I know my mission, and I know what I was put on this Earth to do," he said. "I'm speaking from the heart. We can all get along, no matter what we look like."