Getting to know Youk: At home with Sox star

Alison O'Leary Murray

Despite his maniacal intensity in the batter’s box, 29-year-old Red Sox first baseman Kevin Youkilis is happy to shed his number 20 jersey at the door of his Weston home and kick back.

Here in a shingled gambrel-style dwelling that’s modest by town standards, baseball takes a back seat to life with fiancée Enza Sambataro and her son, Mikey, 3. His shiny 2007 American League Golden Glove award occupies an unassuming corner of a family room that’s straight out of Pottery Barn, and there are few other indications a Big League player resides here.

As Aerosmith’s “Sweet Emotion” wafts from upstairs, there’s a Spider-man action figure stuck to the patio door, a laptop on the granite countertop of the kitchen island and an oversized Louis Vuitton handbag at the bottom of the stairway. Framed photos on the white built-in bookshelves in the adjoining family room center on Mikey, whose mop of curly blond hair is nearly as recognizable to Boston fans as the ball player’s shiny pate.

In Mikey’s absence, the house is quiet, but Kevin and Enza light up when they talk about their growing boy. “He’s almost getting too heavy to carry,” says Kevin, who shakes his head when he talks about the “crazy schedules of baseball children” who stay up late at the ballpark and are shuttled endlessly from the stadium to home to off-season digs.

“We have a huge playroom downstairs. In the morning when she’s doing stuff I go down there and play for about an hour with Mikey,” he says, a broad smile spreading under his bushy goatee.

Children — Mikey for now, with more to come after their fall wedding, they say — are central to the Youkilis-Sambataro relationship and the balance they find in their life together. Kevin Youkilis’ Hits for Kids is an organization Kevin started to benefit hospitalized children, based on the experience he had when his appendix ruptured at age 9.

“When I was in the hospital, volunteers came in and helped almost every day, and I’ve always said I would like to help someday,” he says. “There is so much money generated through the Red Sox, the Red Sox Foundation and other players’ charities” that he decided to start his own, and to target smaller, grassroots charities that don’t get the attention that the Red Sox have brought to biggies like the Jimmy Fund.

Enza, who sold advertising for WBZ-TV in the past, started running Hits for Kids two years ago, including managing events, scheduling Kevin’s appearances, and sitting on a committee that vets applications for funding. The organization’s mission is also close to her heart, she says, because she has had health issues and because Mikey spent several weeks in neonatal intensive care after his premature birth at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital. She dreams of growing the organization until it’s able to make a significant impact on a major medical issue like premature childbirth.

“Kevin has a huge strength, which is baseball,” says Enza. “I think I have all of the other strengths. He wanted to hire an outside company to run events for the foundation, but I told him the overhead costs wouldn’t look good, even if the rest of the money was going to do good deeds.”

The couple bantered about an August fashion show-fundraiser at Natick’s Neiman Marcus, because Enza wanted Kevin to fly home from Baltimore to attend it.

“I’m not the fashion guru,” he says. But he’ll be dressing up for plenty of events once the baseball season winds down.

First, there’s the wedding — at an undisclosed destination away from the media frenzy of Boston, they say — then their big annual fundraiser for the organization at Mohegan Sun casino on Nov. 29. Last year’s Crackin’ It Up event, which featured a mock “Newlywed Game” with players and their wives, brought in more than 1,000 friends and fans at $500 each, allowing the organization to top $700,000 in donations to date. This year they’re hoping for 1,300 in the audience for an event modeled on the “Family Feud” game show with help from TV host Marc Summers.

In between, Kevin and Enza will be honored by a small, 7-year-old charity called Christopher’s Haven. Kevin Youkilis’ Hits for Kids organization helped put it on the map in the past year and provided an important $100,000 grant, says Executive Director Martha Welsh. The organization, started by local cancer survivor Dan Olson, provides families of children receiving proton radiation therapy at Mass. General Hospital with a nearby apartment to stay in and a community for support. The Youkilis funding pays for more than two years’ lease on a family apartment at the Charles River Park. Hits for Kids also gave grants to the Joslin Juvenile Diabetes and the Italian Home for Children this year.

“Having an affiliation with the Youkilis [organization] has been a tremendously fun and rewarding experience,” says Welsh. At a Halloween party for children last fall, Kevin sat quietly until children approached him to play and sit on his lap, she says. “He was just part of the scene and delighted to be there. He and Enza are the real deal. Their commitment is so heartfelt it’s been just wonderful.”

And he doesn’t want to change a thing. “He wants to start and finish his career here,” says Enza. Kevin agrees, but notes his future is in the hands of the Red Sox organization. “I have two more years until I’m a free agent. I’m not the type that looks to be a superstar; I just want to be the best baseball player I can be. I would still play the same way in another uniform, but we like it here.”

Alison O’Leary Murray is an editor with GateHouse Media.

Donations to Kevin Youkilis Hits for Kids can be sent to: Kevin Youkilis Hits for Kids, P.O. Box 600311, Newtonville, MA 02460 Call: 617-964-YOUK (9685). Please make checks payable to: Kevin Youkilis Hits For Kids