St. Petersburg, Florida -- Tampa Bay Rays pitcher James Shields may be a fan favorite, but it's his work off the field with his wife that he is most proud of.
"When it comes to kids, I have kind of a soft spot in my heart," he says.
Shields knew when he arrived to play major league ball in Tampa Bay In 2006 that he wanted to be deeply involved in the community. The Rays suggested working with foster kids.
A dad himself, Shields and his wife Ryane began working closely with the Heart Gallery of Tampa Bay and Eckerd Youth Alternatives, helping foster children find a forever home.
Shields took it a step further in 2010 by getting the Rays organization behind the "Big Game James Clubhouse." It's a suite at Tropicana Field just for foster kids and potential parents.
The kids get star treatment: a fancy spread of food and drinks and some of the best seats in the house. Shields says life has thrown these kids a curve ball and he just wants to help them make it to first base.
"These kids don't get very many opportunities to have really good things in their lives and there's not a lot of positive things going on. And I think there is a good way to bring these kids up and have good memories."
And do they ever. His wife, Ryane, spends time in the suite while Shields is in the game. She says for nine innings they get to focus on the game and cheer on their favorite player, which isn't always her husband. She doesn't mind one bit.
He may be known for playing hardball on the field, but as it turns out, James Shields is really a softie.
"In between the lines I am very tough guy to deal with," says Shields. "But as soon as I step outside the line, I am just like anybody else. I really enjoy what I do, I really enjoy helping the community out and anything I can do when it comes to families, that's what I am all about."
Since the Big Game James Clubhouse opened in 2010, a few foster children have already found their forever family.
If you'd like to know more about the clubhouse and making a connection with a foster child, call April Putzulu at Eckerd, 727-461-2990.