The scarlet letter is worn as a badge of honor now, the running joke that just crushed a 4-minute mile.
Sunday night baseball practice. Freshman year. Joey Ravert asked his La Salle coaches if he could leave early to attend Mass. The request was granted, but not without a few teammates raising eyebrows.
“Second semester, (they were) calling me, ‘Reverend,’” Ravert recalled. “They called me ‘Rev.’ Among other names.”
To slur, with love.
“No, it doesn’t bother me at all,” the Explorers’ senior pitcher-slash-first-baseman said with a soft chuckle. “Yeah, I don’t mind it at all.”
The truth will set you free, and Ravert’s spirit runs freer than most. He admits that he used to pray before games, “very publicly. I don’t anymore, because I don’t believe in asking for myself.”
Ravert gives. In every literal, lasting sense of the term. Gives his time. He gives his soul. His heart. One of the more accomplished two-way threats in Division I, the 6-3 Ravert opened the week leading the Explorers at the plate in home runs (four), RBIs (19), runs scored (16), doubles (eight) and walks.
On the mound, he’s topped the ledger in starts (nine), victories (three), innings pitched (49) and strikeouts (47). As a junior, he led the Atlantic 10 in slugging (.676) and was third in home runs (11) while posting a 3.80 ERA over 12 starts.
“(With) Joe, I knew he could it in the Atlantic 10, and I knew he could pitch in the Atantic 10,” said Freddy Hilliard, the La Salle star’s baseball coach at Malvern (Pa.) Prep. “He definitely put in a lot of work to be able to pull this off the way he has. He’s really worked hard to be in the best physical shape of his entire life. He’s just a real special kid. He really is.”
Because mostly, Ravert gives a darn. About everybody. Especially the everybodys to whom life has dealt the cruelest hand.
“It’s funny,” Hilliard said. “Because I don’t think I’ve had a player at Malvern mature so drastically between his sophomore and senior years. He became this man. He did everything right in the classroom, did everything right in the field.”
And, more to the point, did as much as he could off of it.
In high school, Ravert embraced a commitment to service, to community, where he could, when he could. When Malvern students sculpted and baked bowls and filled the finished products with food to give to the homeless in the area, Ravert pitched in — even returning to his alma mater during his college days to help drive the ceramic charge.
“It’s a different world,” the Havertown, Pa., native said. “And it helps you see things from a different perspective. Not having (options), not having a roof over your head. You realize how (blessed) you are and how thankful you are if what my parents (provided).”
It was a pair of long evenings — and longer mornings — with the charitable group Midnight Run that drove those blessings home a few years back.
Ravert was one of a handful of Malvern teens who assisted in setting up overnight mobile stations around New York City, offering free food and clothing in pockets of need around the Big Apple. Students, teachers, alums and chaperones made stops of 15-20 minutes each around the city, usually Manhattan, until roughly 4 in the morning.
After all that, the hunger and the hopelessness wasn’t what really stuck. What stuck, even after all these years, was the cynicism. The bitterness.
“One of the guys just insisted that God wasn’t real and trying to insist that we stopped believing in Him,” Ravert recalled. “We were kind of told to just play it off, but it obviously bothered us.”
Another man asked for soup, “and he wasn’t really gracious,” Ravert said. “You don’t really know what’s going on, mental health-wise or otherwise. We had kind of run out of broth. He said, ‘I don’t want a lot of noodles. You didn’t give me any broth.’
“And I don’t know if he drank it or just threw it on the ground, but he just stamped away.”
They pressed on. Soup. Clothes. Toiletries. They’d packed up sandwiches and canteens of soup and coffee and collected clothes through the night, piled it all into two or three vans and headed out from Philadelphia around midnight.
Ravert considered himself lucky to get in on two different “runs” during his prep days. He’s pined to go on another, but classes or baseball usually held up the schedule. To this day, The Rev and his family have donated clothing and shampoo for current Malvern students to distribute to the homeless or infirmed.
“Hopefully, one of these days, when I’m not playing baseball, I’ll get to go on one of those (again),” Ravert said. “It’s a big part of what my high school taught me and instilled in me and what my parents (did), instilling those types of qualities in me.”
Church is mandatory. No skips. And if travel causes a conflict, he’ll attend a Sunday night, midweek or weekday service.
“I’ve had a couple teammates from Puerto Rico,” Ravert said, “and I’ve been to Spanish mass with them Wednesday night.”
Service is compulsory. No excuses. During the university’s Lasallian Day of Service, Ravert and his teammates were part of a clean-up project around one of north Philly’s rougher neighborhoods.
“That’s something that he got from Malvern,” Hilliard said. “We do a lot of service as part of our mission at Malvern Prep. I don’t think he looked at as something he ‘had to do’ in high school. I think he looked at it as part of his life’s work, something he wanted to continue with the rest of his life.”
Ravert got the green light in December 2014 to miss Explorers practice again in order to lead the Malvern spiritual retreat known as MECO, or Malvernians Experiencing Christ through Others. Right before finals week.
“It probably wasn’t the best decision,” Ravert said. “But I would do it 100 times out of 100 again if you asked me.”
After all, he’s used to switching hats on the fly: Ravert — a natural righty thrower who was taught by his big sister to hit left-handed — usually pitches a weekend opener on Friday and plays first base during midweek contests. As a double major with a 3.64 GPA in accounting and finance, the Malvern alum Is used to juggling swords with one hand, chainsaws in the other.
Then again, he grasps quite a few concepts better than most.
“He’s such a leader and such a good guy, a mature person,” Hilliard said. “He’s kind of an ‘old soul’ in that regard.”
An old soul with the kind of frame and fastball — a salty offering that tops out in the low 90-to-94-mph range — that has scouts intrigued. At the Cape Cod League last year, the La Salle ace put up a 3.54 ERA over 10 games with 23 strikeouts in 28 innings.
“I’m definitely a pitcher first,” Ravert said.
“And he’s always been a very good defensive first baseman, too,” Hilliard noted. “His ticket to the next level is on the mound because of his velocity. (But) he’s always been able to hit. (He) wasn’t just an all-or-nothing big guy; he was very disciplined.”
He still is. In the series opener against Fordham on April 8, Ravert collected four hits, drove in five, tossed six innings and fanned eight during a 16-4 rout of the Rams.
When The Rev is right, most A-10 hitters don’t have a prayer.