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Baseball / Sports

Regardless of where baseball has taken him, new Marlins catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia kept his heart at home

WELLINGTON, Fla. -- They met over breakfast. Linda Wood-Boyle made her pitch to the catcher and received a succinct response: "I'm in."

"At that point we didn't know what that meant," said Wood-Boyle, the President and Executive Director of HomeStart, a Boston-based organization that finds housing for the homeless.

Wood-Boyle had never worked with an athlete. A fervent Red Sox fan, she knew of Jarrod Saltalamacchia's charitable endeavors, particularly his commitment to The Jimmy Fund to benefit Boston's Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. She also knew of his reputation as an accessible sports celebrity.

As the relationship evolved, Wood-Boyle came to appreciate the degree to which Saltalamacchia values home, and the personal significance of him joining the local team.

"One of the things he said to me when I met him was, 'I don't just want to lend my name to this organization. I want to meet your clients. I want to meet the people you serve,' " said Wood-Boyle, who characterized herself as "heart-broken" upon learning Saltalamacchia had agreed to a three-year deal with the Miami Marlins. "He followed through with it. He always made room no matter what we asked of him."

Saltalamacchia took part in several promotional videos in which he heard testimonies of HomeStart clients. He attended the organization's gala, signing autographs and posing for "umpteen photos" as Wood-Boyle described. Though no longer with the Red Sox, Saltalamacchia this year again wrote letters to local media personalities encouraging them to take part in HomeStart's annual ICycle fundraiser.

Wood-Boyle called Saltalamacchia the "most humble, non-ego athlete" she's ever met. While acknowledging the loss she feels as a fan, as a friend she couldn't be happier Saltalamacchia is home.

No place like home

Most of the residences in Wellington's Aero Club of the Landings subdivision have two garages -- one for cars and one for planes. Flight enthusiasts can taxi aircraft up to a runway and literally take off from their backyard.

Saltalamacchia doesn't fly, but he's made good use of "the hanger" in the $2.65 million house he purchased last September. Three-quarters workout facility and one-quarter man cave, the hanger's walls are a pulse-racing red. The color beckons visitors to hop on a treadmill or throw around the 95-pound dumbbells that form part of Saltalamacchia's personal 24-hour Fitness.

The centerpiece is an indoor batting cage. High above along the top of the far wall are framed jerseys of Jason Varitek, David Ortiz, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez, protagonists of the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry Saltalamacchia experienced from 2010 through last year's World Series-winning run.

The area isn't off limits to the women in Saltalamacchia's life, his three dirty blond-haired daughters -- Sidney (7), Hunter (6) and Sloane, who turns 3 in April -- and wife, Ashley. A comfy couch and two wall-mounted flat screen televisions serve as bookends for a pop-a-shot game and air hockey table, giving the space a familial feel.

On a rainy, cool, January afternoon the three girls are wearing matching white sweaters with three wide black bands on each arm. Their surname stretches from shoulder to shoulder across their backs. On the front, a marlin accents sparkly block letters that spell "Daddy" on a heart-shaped baseball pierced with a bat, like one of Cupid's arrows.

"I don't think they fully understand it yet, but I definitely do see a change in their attitude," Saltalamacchia said, asked whether the kids realize Daddy's job won't take him away this spring. "In years past I'm leaving at this point so they're getting sad. It's almost tough to do it. I remember going to Fort Myers 1/8for Red Sox spring training3/8, two hours away, and I was thrilled because years before that I was in Arizona."

A supplemental first-round pick of the Braves in 2003, Saltalamacchia was traded to the Rangers in 2007. In 2011, after the Red Sox acquired him, he would drive home after workouts to spend a little time with his wife and daughters. By 4 a.m. the next morning he was back on the road to Fort Myers.

The commute to Jupiter for Marlins' spring training, which officially opens Sunday: 40 minutes.

Part of Saltalamacchia's Christmas shopping included season tickets for his wife and parents, John and Jeri. They reside in the same West Palm Beach home where Saltalamacchia grew up playing catch and hitting balls off a tee with older brother, Justin, against the outer wall of their father's shed. Justin recalled how the impact of the baseballs would dislodge all of John's mounted tools.

"That's the kind of stuff where you look back now and it's just like, 'Where has my life gone?' " said Justin, who spent the 2003 season in the Braves' organization with Jarrod and now works for Enterprise Rent-A-Car. "You think back now and it's amazing. Two kids playing in the yard and he ends up being in the big leagues, winning a World Series, and now playing for the hometown Marlins."

A love story

Ashley understands the physical demands and preparation her husband's livelihood entails. She attended Stetson on a volleyball scholarship, turning down the Gators' offer to play basketball in Gainesville.

"I wish I could say I could have planned a wife as good as her," said Saltalamacchia, who credits Ashley's encouragement for helping him overcome a throwing issue that could have ended his career. "She truly understands the male side of it because her dad played football at the University of Florida. She loved sports growing up."

The double-digit age difference or snickers about Ashley being a physical education teacher at Royal Palm Beach High School while Jarrod was a student didn't derail the relationship. Saltalamacchia was never enrolled in one of Ashley's classes, and the two didn't begin dating until after he graduated.

"We don't think of the age thing," Justin said. "It's there, but it's not. As a big brother I couldn't have asked for anyone else better for him to be with than Ashley."

Jarrod in 2004 flew home on an off day from low-A ball in Rome, Ga., and proposed at the fountain outside the iconic Breakers hotel. A year later they were married during the advanced-A Carolina League All-Star break.

"One of the things about Jarrod is he's kind of an old soul," said Jim Munsey, Saltalamacchia's agent and best friend. "He really was more mature early on than most kids at 18 or 19. I don't think besides the somewhat salaciousness of it, it really hasn't affected them. While it's fun to gossip about it I suppose for folks, it really hasn't been a big deal to them. They do feel like they're soul mates. They have a great relationship and that's been a big part about where he is."

And a big part about him coming home.

(c)2014 Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)

Visit the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) at www.sun-sentinel.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services


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