The boy, about seven years old, held a photograph of Kevin Youkilis wearing a Red Sox jersey, a bushy beard, and an intense, piercing expression. In front of the boy sat Boston's two-time All-Star first baseman wearing civvies and a smile, his face clean shaven, his expression placid.

The boy asked, "Are you Kevin Youkilis?"

"Yeah, I'm Kevin Youkilis," he replied.

The boy looked down at the photograph, then back at Kevin Youkilis, and said, "Are you sure?"

It was last Christmas at the Italian Home for Children, in the Boston suburb of Jamaica Plain. It is but one of several organizations supported by the Kevin Youkilis Hits for Kids Foundation.

It houses about 100 mentally, physically and sexually abused children, 80 percent of them boys. The kids were seeing a side of Youkilis, off the field, that few people -- and virtually no one outside of New England -- get to see.

"It can break your heart, seeing some of these kids," Youkilis said. "You have to feel for them because they're going through some very tough times. There's a lot of pain, a lot of suffering on many fronts.

"Still, these are kids. They know how to have a good time, and we try to show them a good time, try to do the things that'll help them out as much as we can. Every little bit helps with some of these kids' lives. It's a good time to see them smile, even if it's for just a little bit of time."

On Christmas, Youkilis has a gift for every child at the Italian Home, "even the kids who don't happen to be here that day," Chris Small, its executive director, said. "They're all wrapped, and Kevin hands them out, one at a time."

Then he poses for photos with the boys and girls, signs autographs for them and sits with groups of them, one after the other, chatting and answering every conceivable question.

"Some kids are not all that aware of who he is," Small said, "but some are huge baseball fans and they are beside themselves. After the first time Kevin came, so was the staff. We had to issue some rules -- to the grownups: 'OK, do not bring in your baseballs for autographs. Pictures are going to be with the kids, not you. This is not about you. This is about them.'"

Youkilis established the foundation about four years ago for a variety of existing under-funded, community-based children's charities and medical research programs in New England and Cincinnati, his hometown.

But the Italian Home clearly is nearly as much a passion for him as is playing for the Red Sox.

"He's intensely competitive and involved [in baseball] and the kids can see that," Small said. "Then they meet him in person and he's very easygoing and polite. There are a lot of different sides to him. It's a great message to the kids, without even talking about it."

A few times a year, Youkilis takes groups of the kids to see the Red Sox play. They get to go with him on the field to watch batting practice. Last August he was suspended for five games after he was hit by a pitch, charged the mound and scuffled with Detroit right-hander Rick Porcello. The kids were scheduled to come the next day, but Youkilis wasn't allowed on the field.

"Instead of canceling the event," Small said, "he stayed in the dugout -- he was allowed there before the game -- and the kids hung out with him there. Several of the kids were alert enough to know he'd been suspended. They were talking to him about it, and he was terrific, sort of typical Kevin.

"He told them, 'You know what? I did something that was wrong, and this is my time out.' It really hit home with the kids, some of whom struggle with their behavior. It was 'Kevin lost his temper. Kevin had to pay a price for losing his temper. But he's still a good guy.'"

Bruce Lowitt is a freelance writer based in Tampa.