How Giants' Gabe Kapler and a unique co-director seek change (2024)

Giants manager Gabe Kapler took an identical posture for the national anthem prior to every game last season: with his hand over his heart and one knee pressed into the manicured grass.

His commitment to racial justice compelled him to make a statement. His awareness of a nation and a baseball industry that still hasn’t reckoned with structural inequality compelled him. His world view compelled him. And nobody contributed more to that world view than his activist father, Michael, who died in December after a lengthy battle with Parkinson’s disease and Lewy body dementia.


But when Kapler seeks counsel or conversation or someone to push his preconceptions, he can still pick up the phone. He calls a 36-year-old woman who lives in Bakersfield with her 170-pound service animal, a fluffy Bernese mountain dog named Blasto. He calls someone whom he seldom sees in person but has spent thousands upon thousands of hours together on the phone discussing life goals and politics and interpersonal relations.

He calls Stephanie St. Amour.

St. Amour is more than Kapler’s business associate, someone who looks after his commercial real estate properties in Southern California and manages his short-term vacation rentals and runs his website. She has become one of the most important influences on his values and how he perceives he can make a difference in the world. Thus one might argue, by extension, that she has become one of the most influential people in the Giants organization.

Now Kapler and St. Amour are embarking on their next collaboration: Pipeline For Change, a nonprofit foundation they formed with the aim to create opportunities and break down barriers for women, people of color, members of the LBGTQ community, people with physical disabilities and people from underrepresented backgrounds who seek to begin or advance a career in baseball.

The foundation’s website went live Monday along with a grant application. Until the foundation begins to grow its endowment, Kapler plans to fund the first of those grants himself within 60 days.

“A lot of this stems from the experience I had over the last calendar year and in particular some of the things that happened from a social justice perspective,” Kapler said. “I believe, and I think we saw this past summer, that it’s important to be a good ally and to amplify minority voices. But we also have to move beyond that. We have to work toward more equitable job opportunities in light of how poorly our society has handled these situations in the past.


“And it’s also good for baseball and all sports to be thinking about diversity at the leadership level. More diverse decision-makers lead to better decision-making. We end up with less groupthink. We get less dug in with our behavior. And there’s more creativity we can put toward problem-solving.”

The importance Kapler placed on creating a diversity of perspectives was evident a little more than a year ago when he put together his 16-person coaching staff, a group that contains several people from non-traditional backgrounds — including Alyssa Nakken, the first female uniformed coach in MLB history. Over the past few months, Kapler made additional hires to his support staff that reflect even greater ethnic, linguistic and gender diversity in addition to throwing more resources into mental health.

But it was a temp hire he made seven years ago that might have led him toward everything else.

Toward the end of 2013, shortly before the Dodgers hired him to be their farm director, he posted on social media that he was seeking help with Kaplifestyle, a health, fitness and culture blog that he hoped to get off the ground. And St. Amour, a Tampa Bay Rays fan who once posed for a picture with Kapler outside Camden Yards, and whose consulting business happened to be in a slow period, responded.

“It was a two-week trial period, just to see if we’d work well together,” said St. Amour, in a phone interview Monday. “Seven years later, it turns out we probably do.”

Spend an hour on the phone with both of them and you’ll be struck at how alike they sound, from their philosophies to their social prescriptions and right down to the syntax of their sentences. Even their conversational acknowledgments — “I think that’s right,” or “It’s interesting you say that” — are identical.

Did she influence Kapler or did Kapler influence her?


The simplest answer: it’s both.

“We’ve influenced each other, I think, because of the length of time we’ve worked together and the way we push each other, specifically on matters like social justice, general politics and gender equality,” Kapler said. “I don’t have any other thought partner who I’ve literally spent thousands of hours discussing these things with. She’s been a great partner and teacher. And more generally, she’s been able to run the day-to-day business, and now nonprofit affairs, when I’ve needed to invest my focus into baseball. She doesn’t let her physical challenges get in the way of that most of the time.”

St. Amour was born with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, an incurable congenital disorder that affects the body’s collagen and connective tissue. In milder forms, it results in hypermobility that is common among contortionists and circus performers. In more serious variations, it involves vascular issues and the constant risk of joint dislocations. St. Amour was born with two dislocated hips. When she was 7 years old, she required double reconstructive knee surgeries. More procedures and more hospital stays followed over the years. All her life, any fall could prove disastrous, and thus mobility is a constant issue and source of anxiety. (That’s where Blasto comes in.)

She learned early in life that her mind was the most powerful muscle in her body, and one that knew no bounds. So when she became interested in forensics, and her high school didn’t have a debate team, she turned freelance. She competed and judged competitions all through high school and college, which she credits for honing her reasoning and linguistic skills. She majored in biology and worked as both a government contractor and in private practice in consulting, all the while following Rays players like Matt Moore and Evan Longoria.

And, for a time, Gabe Kapler.

That time she snapped a picture with him outside the ballpark? Neither of them had any idea how their lives would intersect. St. Amour took on more and more responsibilities, to the point where she moved from Maryland to be nearer to his properties in California. They invested in a cleaning business and expanded their real estate footprint in Inglewood, an area that is poised to take off with the opening of SoFi Stadium. Because Blasto is the furthest thing from an apartment dog, she moved to Bakersfield where there’s plenty of space to run.

“In L.A.,” she said, “It’s hard to find anything with a yard.”

How Giants' Gabe Kapler and a unique co-director seek change (2)

Blasto, Stephanie St. Amour’s service dog, can sense when she begins to lose balance. (Courtesy of Stephanie St. Amour)

It is clear from every conversation they have: she is a partner and not an administrative assistant.

“I’m never doing the same thing twice every day,” St. Amour said. “And Gabe is a really good partner to work with. His communication skills are absolutely incredible. Working with him has allowed me to be challenged at exactly the right level. I’m never doing something I feel unequipped to do, but I’m still able to push myself to be better every single day with his support. He has always given me the ability to weigh in and propose any idea that I’m willing to put the work into. I have that creative freedom to push the envelope a little bit and he’ll support anything if he knows I’ve put in the research and time and effort.


“When you’re running a business or a nonprofit, having that support is incredible. It really feels empowering and inspiring and makes you want to work even harder.”

They’ll talk shop. But more often, their conversations take a philosophical turn. From last year’s activism against injustice to the global health crisis to the resistance that accompanied Kapler’s unpopular hiring in San Francisco to the well-publicized abusive incident with Dodgers minor leaguers in 2015 that, fairly or not, remains a mark on his reputation, they have had no shortage of subjects to unspool and examine.

“We have found ourselves able to challenge each other,” St. Amour said. “We don’t always agree on the substance of everything, but we’ve always been able to have a really open dialogue and debate. That makes both of us better and has led us to pushing ourselves to a better idea for the business and for the foundation than we would have ever achieved on our own.

“All of that made me feel strongly this was somebody I wanted to partner with. I had absolute confidence he would do amazing things and I wanted to do these amazing things with him.”

Kapler says he hasn’t decided whether he will continue to kneel for the anthem in 2021, regardless of whether there are fans in the stands or not. He wants to survey the landscape and consider the urgency of the moment before making up his mind. He’s sure to involve Giants upper management and his coaching staff in those conversations. And those closest to him, too.

How does Kapler begin to promote activism in a sport so rooted in conformity? How should he engage his players? Beyond his ability to diversify the game through his own hiring processes, how can he affect the greatest positive change?

Until the past few years, he might have picked up the phone and called his father.


“I’ve grown and changed with my dad’s death,” Kapler said. “The months leading up to it, I reflected a lot on his life and what he stood for, his willingness to take actionable steps. Social justice, equality, feminism — in a lot of ways it was his life’s work and what he cared about the most. He didn’t just talk about it. He got out into the streets hand in hand with my mom and protested.

“Since my dad’s death, I’ve been driven and compelled to take those actionable steps. Some of the discussions he and I had led to a lot of reflection about what he lived for and what he stood for. This is another way I can honor his legacy.”

And besides, Kapler considers the modern generation of players and he sees more resolve among some, not all but a growing number, to use their platforms to make a positive impact on their communities. He and St. Amour have discussed it: encouraging engagement and conversation is a way to create chemistry, not detract from it. Players who connect with one another, who respect and care about one another, are more likely to be motivated to believe in each other and win for one another.

“I believe well-rounded human beings make better athletes,” Kapler said. “We have plenty of coaches on our staff that can get in the weeds with our players on things like mechanics, pitching grips, arm angles, spin rates, very granular things. All of that is important. But the way I can be most impactful is helping our players be well-rounded people who talk about things that aren’t necessarily always between the lines.”

Kapler cites a podcast he once heard with Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr and San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich a year ago. Popovich reflected on his early-career approach, when he felt that coaching meant being obsessed with physical conditioning and barking as players ran the floor. At some point, he realized that real coaching meant showing concern, talking to players about their families, about world events, about what they liked to eat and what made them tick.

Kapler acknowledges it: five years ago, he would’ve scoffed at the notion of building chemistry. His mind was buried in what was quantifiable. He wanted all the science, all the data, all the stuff at the bleeding edge.

“But I can’t help it now,” he said. “Chemistry matters. How do you create chemistry? In a lot of ways, it’s loving thy neighbor.”


But what about those who are challenged to find their place in the same neighborhood? Over their hours and hours of conversations, Kapler and St. Amour sketched out the importance of building upon initiatives like MLB’s Diversity and Inclusion Program. They talked about how front offices were becoming conduits from the Ivy League, how creating more diversity was a multifaceted and structural problem that wouldn’t be solved with money or a bank of job listings or token hires, how it was so difficult for someone to stay in a position or advance when, even in the absence of hostility or harassment, their environment didn’t allow them to feel comfortable to be their authentic selves.

She has told Kapler more times than she can count:

“It’s tempting to want to change the world all at once. We’re not going to be able to do that. There are so many areas that deserve attention. How and where do we keep the focus and how do we maximize the impact without stretching ourselves too thin? That’s going to be a balancing effort.

“That’s the reason Gabe and I thought starting this foundation was critical. We as a society tend to put the burden on the people who are trying to break into an industry. We put the burden on those who have been less privileged to be twice as qualified and to stand out. That burden has to change. It has to be more than one individual trying to make a difference, and it will have to be more than one foundation.”

Keeping one foundation going is difficult enough. Kapler started his first one in 2005 while still playing for the Boston Red Sox. The Gabe Kapler Foundation, which he founded with his then-wife, Lisa, aimed to bring awareness to domestic violence and assist women and children who had been subject to abuse. The foundation hasn’t been active for a while — his mother, Judy, was in charge of day-to-day operations until it became too much for her — but Kapler has continued to support anti-domestic violence efforts and last year contributed to La Casa de las Madres, a San Francisco shelter and counseling center for survivors of domestic violence.

Pipeline For Change will start by reviewing applications, reading personal essays and considering a broad range of grant proposals from covering travel expenses to attend the winter meetings or registering for a SABR conference or taking a class in Python to pursue a baseball career in data analysis to seeking a certification in groundskeeping. As they expand the foundation’s reach, they hope to partner with colleges, leagues and knowledge hubs such as Driveline in the hope of creating opportunities for candidates to intern or audit a class or otherwise get their foot in the door.

“As long as you can explain in that essay what you want to do and how it will impact the career or the dream that you have, we’ll be looking at that and evaluating that,” St. Amour said.


The only requirement is that you come from an underrepresented background or are seeking to overcome hardship. And that includes those with physical disabilities.

“That one’s close to my heart,” St. Amour said. “There’s no reason for someone like me to look at baseball and say, ‘No chance.’ That’s part of why this advocacy is so important for me: encouraging people to recognize that a traditional model might not always be the right fit. It may mean re-conceptualizing what a job might look like.

“That’s one of the things I love about Gabe: He was willing to take a chance on me. I’m not what you would think of as a traditional business partner for an ex-major league baseball player by any means. But it didn’t faze him. For him, it’s always been what you bring to the table, not any other characteristic.”

St. Amour is hopeful that if any good came from the 2020 quarantine and the shift to working from home, it’s that attitudes might change in terms of openness to job candidates with mobility issues who can be just as effective if not more so while working remotely.

It’s a concept that Kapler was able to grasp seven years ago, within the span of a two-week trial period.

St. Amour has to chuckle at the irony: she thinks about the judgments people make about Kapler because of his appearance — tanned, chiseled physique, hyper-disciplined personal habits — and it’s not too dissimilar from the unconscious biases or reductive assumptions people make about those who are differently-abled.

It’s just one more way that, against all odds, they connect so well.

“You know, physically, I don’t think he and I could be more opposite in any way,” she said. “And that’s never mattered.”

(Top photo: Darron Cummings / Associated Press)

How Giants' Gabe Kapler and a unique co-director seek change (2024)
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