Jeff Attinella, book donation, 5.8.20

Over the last month, Jeff Attinella’s name has been in the news more than usual, albeit for different reasons than normal. Features on local television. An article in Portland’s main newspaper. Attention from Major League Soccer’s website. As a goalkeeper for the Portland Timbers, Attinella is used to getting coverage for his play on the field, but over the last few week, outlets are documenting his life off of it.

Part of that has been the arrival of a new son, with Jeff’s wife, Kendall, giving birth to the couple’s second child last month. Part of the new storytelling has also been life amid the world’s COVID-19’s precautions, making their newborn’s first month more insular than most.

Part, though, has been a second career that Attinella’s seen take off over the last few years. Though the Timbers goalkeeper has previously received attention for the children’s books he’s authored, lives spent by families in precautionary seclusion have made his writing even more relevant.

“It’s been really cool, to be honest,” Attinella said, when asked about the coverage. When the 31-year-old’s first was published in 2017, an initial round of attention captured the story of the goalkeeper who wrote children’s books. Last week, with the announcement a large donation of his books to a Chicago-based charity, Attinella’s writing, as well as the company he created with his wife and her parents, gave outlets another reason to take notice.

“Especially as a crisis occurs, we are thankful to be part of a community that cares and responds to the needs of children in the community,” Shoshana Buchholz-Miller, the Executive Director at Cradles to Crayons, said in a statement released by the Timbers last week. “Because we are only providing new learning essentials for children during this time, book donations like, 'The Curse Ends: The Story of the 2016 Chicago Cubs' make such a difference.”

Buchholz-Miller’s subtle emphasis on “new” makes a difference. Copies of “The Curse Ends” will go straight from the publishers’ warehouse in Florida to Chicago, where Cradles to Crayons, as COVID-19 precaution, has had to stop accepting donations of used books.

“The cool thing about Cradles to Crayons is they’re an organization that hands out the necessities,” Attinella says. “They make sure families that need diapers are getting diapers, and things like that. By teaming up with them, our hope is that a family going there looking for the bare necessities is going to get a surprise of one of our books.”

When, in the coming days, the 1,000 copies of “The Curse Ends” arrive at Cradles, a hope the Attinellas have had for “a long time” will come to fruition.

“We wanted to make donations, and we’re hopeful we’re going to be able to make donations to other cities, as well,” Attinella said. Other books he’s authored tells the stories of teams in Cleveland, the greater Boston area and Alabama. “It just so happens that the Chicago book is the one that we had ready to do something with ... We’re hopeful we’re going to be able to make a similar donation to organizations in the other cities and this isn’t just a one-time thing.”

On the surface, the donations seem to turn this story from a goalkeeper-cum-author to one of a second career serving the greater good. Like any attempt to distill a story to one, distinct angle, though, that description is probably reductive.

Still, if we were to focus on one angle that summarizes Attinella’s publishing world, the angle he would choose revolves around a larger team, not just himself. It Had To Be Told Publishing, the company that has fostered his idea, is the product of Jeff and Kendall’s larger family, and not just Attinella.

“We put so much work into these books in terms of making sure the artwork was awesome …,” Attinella said, his responses quickly shifting from “I” to “we”” early in our interview. “We went over the stories so many times, and spent so many hours. Especially my family – my wife, my in-laws – spent so many hours making sure we felt like this was the best product that was out on the market. We’re very proud of how they turned out.”

Through his words, Attinella’s pride becomes the subtext to his new attention. The features on television and websites naturally focus on him. He is the author, after all, and the athlete-to-writer angle is the story’s hook. After that hook is set, though, it feels important to him that a larger story gets out. Yes, this is his idea and his work, but as is the case with anything that’s published, the process is about more than one person committing an idea to a page. The Attinellas had to learn the landscape of a new industry to get their new company off the ground. With a parallel career unfolding on the field, Attinella could never go it alone.

“It’s been really fun getting recognition and doing these stories, doing the [press] and stuff like that that comes with the book,” he concedes, “but really, all of this stuff is such a testament to the amount of work and just how generous and how fortunate I am to have a family that believes in the idea enough to work tireless hours; are just good enough people, I guess, to be on board and decide that we should try to make this type of donation together.”

With the Timbers resuming individualized workouts today, and Attinella’s recovery from shoulder surgery set for its next steps, attention will return to the field. In our new world, progress there will be slow, but the playing side of life will start to reclaim our focus. As it does, though, his new career will continue, as will the company he and his family have fostered.

“Books are forever, you know what I mean,” he asks, rhetorically. “It’s not something that you work on that you hope is cool for one month. Books are forever in history …

“To be getting attention as people start to pick up our books and really appreciate all the work that my family did and all the work that went into it, it’s been really cool, and it’s been really exciting.”

In the coming days, Cradles to Crayons will be the beneficiary of that work, as will a series of children throughout greater Chicago. For Attinella, it’s important people know it’s “their” work, and not just “his.” It Had To Be Told is more than the author. It’s an entire family allowing one person’s idea to help the world.