Tigers pitcher Matthew Boyd interrupted his phone interview twice when he heard his 1-year-old daughter, Meira, stirring in the other room. After all the times during the season when his wife, Ashley, took care of her to allow him to focus on his starts, from late nights to early mornings,
Tigers pitcher Matthew Boyd interrupted his phone interview twice when he heard his 1-year-old daughter, Meira, stirring in the other room. After all the times during the season when his wife, Ashley, took care of her to allow him to focus on his starts, from late nights to early mornings, the offseason is his time to do his part.
"Can I call you right back?" he politely asked as he heard Meira starting to wake up through an otherwise quiet house.
The Boyds and their daughter will follow their annual holiday tradition, spending Christmas with his parents in Washington state before heading to Oregon to spend New Year's with Ashley's family. But they'll be taking an entirely new appreciation of the holiday with them thanks to a calling they felt to help a household in need halfway around the globe.
A year ago, the Boyds experienced Christmas as parents for the first time. A few weeks ago, they felt like they became parents of three dozen other children.
"Our family's big," Matthew Boyd said, "and it's across the globe now."
That's what it has meant for them to not only create Kingdom Home, which serves as a home in Uganda for 36 girls rescued from child trafficking and other life-threatening situations, but to see their work first-hand.
They took on the challenge of creating a nonprofit organization during the season after hearing of a couple who had rescued the girls and taken them into their home, but who needed help after the husband passed away. The Boyds put $100,000 of their own money into the project and teamed up with the Detroit Tigers Foundation, an affiliate of Ilitch Charities. They also received pledges from Nicholas Castellanos, Shane Greene, Drew VerHagen and then-Tiger James McCann.
With a foundation in place, making a visit was the next step. It took three flights and a seven-hour drive on narrow clay roads across the Kenyan border, but the arduous journey felt like nothing once they arrived.
"It was really, really cool," Boyd said. "It was so special to be there, be present, actually be in front of the girls. Not that it wasn't real before, but it really puts it to a whole new level, just interacting with them and with Dorothy, the housemother, having them braid Ashley's hair over and over."
Though Christmas was still weeks away, the Boyds brought gifts. Between donations from Adidas and a nonprofit called Soles4Souls, they had enough new shoes for each child and then some, along with new clothes.
"Some of these kids hadn't had new shoes for a long time, and now they had two pairs," he said. "Just seeing their joy for just little things that you take for granted, it was so cool."
They put the shoes to use quickly, kicking around a soccer ball and journeying around the village to get an idea of the surroundings they were in.
"You hear how it's a developing country, and you think you know what a developing country means. But until you actually experience it, it doesn't really take hold," Boyd said. "So playing with a soccer ball, we actually broke the tap, and it was the only tap in the house. So we had to go down to the well, and it was the only place for water.
"One thing that just stood out was the village that we were in. The village, it's out there and away from one of the bigger towns. The yard is walled off, but the kids in the village saw how much fun our girls were having and they came to the wall and watched. And you want to help them, but they have families and food for them."
Boyd had started his offseason throwing program before they left home, so he had to keep working out. Finding a catching partner in a region where baseball isn't a common sport was another challenge.
"I got to play catch with two of our guides. I taught them baseball; they were pretty athletic," he said. "I brought an extra glove; we tossed it around a little bit. It was a lot of fun."
More than anything, though, the Boyds were amazed by the determination of the girls to forge their own futures. Part of the goal of Kingdom Home is to help at-risk children become productive members of a community through education and vocational training.
"They're so respectful, and they study so hard," he said. "They have a vision of the future, and they want to do amazing things. I knew that they were like that, but they were so far and beyond."
The home, yard and all, is rented. Part of the purpose of the trip was for Matthew and Ashley to check out land, either for an additional home or to replace the one they have. They found a site, he said, where they could potentially build four homes to help more children. They're now working on fundraising events to help them get there -- one possibly in Spring Training in the Tampa area, another during the season in metro Detroit. Boyd said Big League Impact, a foundation created by Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright, is helping them put it together.
Heading back home was emotional, Boyd said, but they're already hoping to schedule a return trip next offseason, ideally bringing along some donors to see the work themselves. In the meantime, as they return to the comforts of home and family, the experience reshaped their vision of the holiday season.
"You really appreciate what you have," Boyd said. "We have clean water, and we have a roof over our heads, and we know where our next meal is coming from. I'm grateful for family. I'm grateful for friends and neighbors. That being said, I'm grateful we have this opportunity to change lives.
"We had a Christmas event there. We sang Christmas carols there. It's so good knowing our girls are going to be able to sleep in their own beds, and they're going to have three meals and have an education. And they know they're loved; that's the biggest thing. All those things, I don't take for granted."
For more information, to donate, or to sponsor a child at Kingdom Home, visit kingdomhome.org.
Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook.