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Cotton raises funds for hurricane-ravaged home

Virgin Islands native balanced pitching for A's with concern for family, friends
MLB.com @JaneMLB

OAKLAND -- For much of September, Jharel Cotton's thoughts drifted home. The Virgin Islands, braving two hurricanes in two weeks, were in shambles, and Cotton could only watch from afar as the scale of devastation became clear.

Photos poured in on his Facebook feed, and the A's pitcher heard horror stories from home. Cotton's father had lost the roof to his house, which was otherwise intact, and the majority of his belongings. Others lost everything, including jobs.

OAKLAND -- For much of September, Jharel Cotton's thoughts drifted home. The Virgin Islands, braving two hurricanes in two weeks, were in shambles, and Cotton could only watch from afar as the scale of devastation became clear.

Photos poured in on his Facebook feed, and the A's pitcher heard horror stories from home. Cotton's father had lost the roof to his house, which was otherwise intact, and the majority of his belongings. Others lost everything, including jobs.

His heart aching for home, walloped first by Irma and then Maria, Cotton pitched on in Oakland, all the while doing his best to support the people of the Caribbean. He began raising money for relief efforts, coming up with nearly $20,000, and he planned a trip to St. Thomas with his now-wife Emma -- the two married earlier this month -- shortly after season's end.

Cotton has ties to both the U.S. and British Virgin Islands; he was born in St. Thomas but spent more than a decade on Tortola, one of the nearby British Islands. He returned to the U.S. side for a few years before coming to the mainland to play high school ball in Virginia, a move that paid dividends for his future. In 2017, Cotton was one of three Virgin Island natives playing in the Majors, joining Jabari Blash and Akeel Morris.

The right-hander expected to split his time between St. Thomas and Tortola during his October visit, but he couldn't get to Tortola, a wrecked port making for limited boat service. His father, still without a roof but "making it work," per Cotton, was reunited with his son at wedding festivities in Michigan.

Tweet from @Athletics: .@JharelCotton & his fianc�� Emma visited his native Virgin Islands to help w/hurricane relief efforts by preparing meals for those in need. pic.twitter.com/Qnj5uwfhvC

"I knew when I went down it was going to be a little chaotic with the electricity not being there, the roads all torn up, roofs gone," Cotton said. "I've been through hurricanes before and we've lost power for maybe a couple weeks, but I've never seen it that bad in my life. It was nuts, really nuts. Just crazy."

Cotton estimated maybe 50 percent of the island was without power when he was there, following weeks where everyone was without. Residents in dire need of food supplies waited two to three hours in line at grocery stores. Electric poles and debris filled the roads, and a 7 p.m. curfew was in place to keep drivers off them in the dark.

"Imagine stoplights not working and traffic in all directions forcing their way into the lanes and whatnot," Cotton said. "It's pretty hectic."

The 25-year-old spent some of his time on the island distributing meals in partnership with the Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands, the recipient of Cotton's fundraising. He showed Emma around the island, a once-lush gem, and saw friends and family, leaving rather uplifted by witnessing the heart and hustle of his community in action as it attempts to restore normalcy.

"They're doing a great job," Cotton said. "I'm proud of the island, because they came up big for each other. They act like nothing happened down there. It was just, you know what, it happened, now we just have to live with it and move on. Their spirits are high, and they're going on with life."

Jane Lee has covered the A's for MLB.com since 2010. Follow her on Twitter @JaneMLB and listen to her podcast.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Oakland Athletics, Jharel Cotton