Velma Leocadio moved from Brooklyn to Churchill two months ago.
Shortly after becoming an Allegheny County resident, Leocadio, 62, looked for a social outlet. She discovered J Cafe. After learning more about the program, Leocadio decided to head to the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill branch and meet other seniors, eat lunch and enjoy — what she hoped would be — a meaningful afternoon.
To Leocadio’s surprise, on her first day at J Cafe, New York Yankees relief pitcher and part-time Pittsburgh resident Scott Effross and his dad, Stefan Effross, were visiting the JCC, speaking with community members and serving lunch.
Upon realizing the identity of the tall apron-clad Jewish gentleman preparing her meal, Leocadio paused, introduced herself and asked for a photograph.
“He's an amazing player and for him to come here, and to serve food, that tells you everything about the person he is,” Leocadio said. “To me, it's just awesome.”
After being traded Aug. 1 by the Chicago Cubs, Effross tallied a 0-0 record, including 3 saves, 3 holds, and a 2.13 ERA in 13 relief appearances during 12.2 innings with the New York club.
“I went to some Yankee games and the way they play, his spirit just being here, it’s overwhelming. I just get the chills,” Leocadio said.
J Cafe diner and Oakland resident Bob Goshen said he, too, is a former New Yorker and that he grew up 10 blocks from Yankee Stadium.
“I was a fan of the Yankees for 50 years until I came to Pittsburgh,” Goshen said.
Meeting Effross was a “thrill,” and something Goshen plans on relating to his two grandchildren.
Effross told the Chronicle that speaking with seniors, volunteering and learning more about the community were the reasons why he decided to visit the JCC.
“It’s obviously great anytime I can interact with fans and get opportunities to meet people of different walks of life,” he said. But what made the Dec. 22 visit extra special, Effross noted, was the fact that it was Chanukah, that he was with his dad and that the two Jewish men were able to contribute during the holiday.
“It's a little bit challenging during the season to kind of stay on top of Jewish traditions, so any time I can, during the offseason, celebrate with our family — whether it's the High Holidays that kind of happen at the end of the season, and then Chanukah happens during the wintertime — those are always cherished moments,” he said.
Effross grew up in Twinsburg, Ohio, celebrated his bar mitzvah at Congregation Shir Shalom and later played college baseball at Indiana University.
His father, Stefan Effross, said that whether watching his son pitch before thousands of cheering fans or serve beef brisket, Harvard beets and confetti couscous to a room full of seniors, “it’s rewarding.”
“It’s nice that people know him, and it makes me feel good just to watch his climb,” Stefan Effross said.
As the father/son team happily chatted with lunch-goers and took photos with passersby, JCC Chief Development and Marketing Officer Fara Marcus described the value of such interactions.
“When we heard that Scott was interested in becoming active with the JCC and the JCC community, we welcomed him with open arms,” she said. “He's just an unbelievable human being who is very humble and wants to give back in any way to the Jewish community and the Pittsburgh community.”
Scott Effross deflected the praise and said it's always a “good opportunity to be able to help out your community and sort of serve them the way that you were raised.”
“I'm very proud to be Jewish, and to be raised Jewish from my father and my mother, and be a part of that community,” he added. “I would love to be able to help out in any way I can.” PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at email@example.com.