Stacy Jewell Lewis has vivid memories of the first Major League Baseball game she ever attended as a child.
She recalls standing and singing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” during the seventh-inning stretch and the crunching sound made from fans walking on peanut shells.
Then, at 19, Lewis’ life was stolen when she was abducted and forced into the darkness of human trafficking and sex slavery.
At 21, she escaped the nightmare.
Years later, Lewis remains a staunch advocate for human trafficking awareness.
Lewis shared a podium in the press room at Angel Stadium on Aug. 24 alongside Angels slugger and future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols, his wife, Deidre, and Lita Mercado, victims advocate and administrator with the Orange County Human Trafficking Task Force.
They joined together to announce the Strike Out Slavery Initiative, a campaign geared toward baseball fans and created by Albert and Deidre Pujols to raise awareness about the existence of modern-day slavery and to raise funds for organizations that combat the crime in and out of the U.S.
Lewis had talked about the human trafficking issue with Deidre Pujols when the two met at a human trafficking prayer group.
In 2016, Deidre traveled to other countries and to cities in the U.S. to learn about human trafficking and organizations that fight against it.
“I came back and the first thing I thought is what could I do about it,” Deidre said. “Clearly, it’s a global issue.”
Taking on causes isn’t new for the Pujols family.
In 2005, the couple founded the Pujols Family Foundation, which serves the needs of families impacted by Down syndrome.
Albert Pujols said he has been inspired by his wife’s passion for fighting human trafficking.
“I’m so proud of her,” he said. “I’m really excited because I see her heart is in this.”
In 2016, the Pujolses and D.A. Tony Rackauckas met with the Angels to discuss a partnership in which the Angels could bring more awareness to human trafficking through baseball.
The Angels were on board, making them the first MLB team to address the issue.
On Sept. 16, the Angels are hosting Strike Out Slavery Day when the Angels play the Texas Rangers.
The event includes a pregame expo featuring displays by local nonprofits that battle human trafficking, and opportunities for fans to get involved with their efforts.
Through Sept. 6, supporters also can go to strikeoutslavery.com and make a minimum $10 donation for a chance to win a Hero + Living Legend Experience with Albert Pujols.
“I believe that this sports platform is one like no other,” Deidre said. “We attract millions of people at stadiums across this country for 162 games a year. That is a tremendous audience.”
Mercado said that human trafficking is often misunderstood, with many people thinking it is a problem occurring in other countries.
But that’s far from the case, she said.
“Orange County is a destination location for sex trafficking,” said Mercado, citing a report released by the task force in 2016 revealing some telling statistics. “Traffickers are bringing women and girls into Orange County because there is a demand base here.”
Victims are brought to O.C. from out of state and out of county, Mercado said. The victims being rescued by the Human Trafficking Task Force often are U.S. citizens.
In 2016, more than 300 victims of human trafficking were provided services by the task force. Many are under 18.
Deidre realizes that human trafficking can be a challenging topic for families to discuss.
But it’s imperative to bring the issue out of the shadows into the forefront of society, she said.
“We can do it powerfully but we can do it palatably because the ultimate defender of this fight is going to be prevention and it’s going to be education and creating awareness,” Deidre said. “This is one way that hopefully, Albert and I can make a difference in this community and hopefully spread the word to get it out there to stadiums across the country.”
Members of the enforcement arm of the Orange County Human Trafficking Task Force were also on hand to support the Strike Out Slavery Initiative. The task force is led by Anaheim PD with investigators from Anaheim PD, California Highway Patrol, Costa Mesa PD, Irvine PD, Newport Beach PD, OCDA, OCSD and Santa Ana PD.