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Enza Sambataro and Red Sox player Kevin Youkilis are pictured at home in Newton with her son, Michael.
Enza Sambataro and Red Sox player Kevin Youkilis are pictured at home in Newton with her son, Michael. (Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff)

Confessions of a future baseball wife

She's been through a lot, but she and Kevin Youkilis have a strong foundation

Email|Print| Text size + By Mark Shanahan
Globe Staff / December 12, 2007

Less than four years after she became grist for the gossip mill by dating Ben Affleck, Enza Sambataro says she can't remember much about the experience.

"It feels like a long time ago, and a lot of the firsthand emotions are gone," she says. "It ended because I really didn't want to get caught up in that whole scene."

If she was intent on avoiding the spotlight, she hasn't succeeded. Sambataro is now engaged to Kevin Youkilis, the Red Sox first baseman whose public profile, at least in New England, is on par with any Hollywood actor's. She is also CEO of his foundation, Hits for Kids, which last month raised more than $360,000 at an event at Mohegan Sun.

The wedding will be Sambataro's second since her five-month fling with Affleck ended in 2004. She was briefly married to a South Shore car dealer with whom she had a child.

"He wasn't what I'd call marriage material," says Sambataro, 29, cuddling with her son, Mikey, while he watches "Jakers! The Adventures of Piggley Winks" in their Auburndale apartment. "Kevin is a really good person, and he's great with Mikey. . . . He's like insta-dad."

As excited as she is about their engagement - the couple has yet to set a date - Sambataro has misgivings about becoming the wife of a Major League Baseball player. Not long ago, a friend gave her a copy of Jessica Canseco's book "Juicy: Confessions of a Former Baseball Wife," and she was struck by how familiar it all sounded.

"No, Kev and I don't shoot steroids, and I'm not getting a nose job and Botox injections every two weeks," Sambataro says. "But it's true that baseball is 24/7 for most of these guys, and that can be very tiring on a family. There are perks to being a player's wife, but you also make a lot of family sacrifices."

Sambataro has not always had such grown-up concerns. Describing herself as "wild" in high school and "far from a cheerleader" in college - she took courses at Boston College but did not graduate - Sambataro admits she used to be more madcap than mature.

"The reason I don't drink anymore is because I did all my partying under the age of 21," she says. "Among my friends, I would always be the first one to do something over the top and crazy."

Her relationship with Affleck, whom she met at a charity bowling tournament hosted by former Red Sox shortstop Nomar Garciaparra, might have remained under wraps if not for e-mails sent by Sambataro's starstruck roommate. The insolent missives referencing the actor's "gross stomach and back hair" and his habit of spitting in the sink eventually made their way to the media.

"My roommate just couldn't get over the fact that Ben was staying in our apartment," says Sambataro, who is still friends with the woman. "She sent out these blow-by-blow accounts because she was addicted to gossip."

For Sambataro, who was working then for WBZ-TV selling advertising, there were negative consequences. She suddenly found herself pursued by the paparazzi, and her picture began showing up in tabloids and on celebrity websites. Her past indiscretions, including a 2001 shoplifting charge, were played as news.

"Everything got twisted around," says Nancy Clairmont, Sambataro's mother.

Clairmont, who owns Salon De Cinzia in Newton, says it was upsetting to see her daughter, whom she describes as a "very outgoing girl," portrayed as some sort of temptress.

"It was what it was," Sambataro says with a shrug. "Even though it was seven months after [Affleck's breakup with Jennifer Lopez], the media still had an over-exaggerated focus on Ben."

The improbable romance soon ended. Affleck went on to marry actress Jennifer Garner while Sambataro walked down the aisle with Robert McGee, whose family owns car dealerships in Middleborough and Hanover. Seven months later they split up.

"I was married super briefly," she says. "It was not good."

McGee, who shares custody of the couple's 2-year-old son, did not return phone calls last week.

Though Sambataro is a Newton native, she met Youkilis in New York. While in Manhattan on business, she'd gone to a Ben Kweller concert with Lenny DiNardo, the former Red Sox pitcher with whom she was friendly.

"Kevin was there, and because he and I aren't into the whole alternative, hip, small band thing, we stayed out in the bar area while Lenny and his band friends went in," Sambataro recalls. "Kev and I had a really good time."

What appealed to her most was how down-to-earth Youkilis seemed. He was the rare Major Leaguer without an oversize ego.

"Kevin wasn't interested in hanging out with girls who were interested in hanging out with him because he was a ballplayer," Sambataro says. "We won't name them, but there are plenty of those."

Friends for nearly three years before they started dating, the low-key couple try to lead an unremarkable life. During the season, they're regulars at the Border Cafe in Cambridge, and at Davio's and Fugakyu. At home, they play Scrabble and watch movies. (While he's no A-list actor like Affleck, Youkilis was in a movie: He had a line in the 1994 Melanie Griffith movie "Milk Money," which was filmed in his hometown of Cincinnati.)

Sambataro does not have a nanny and rarely ventures far without her son. After the Red Sox won the 2007 World Series in Denver, she carried Mikey around on her shoulders as she and Youkilis celebrated on the field.

"I'd shoot myself before I'd have someone else raise Mikey," she says.

Among the current Red Sox spouses, Sambataro has several friends, including Kelli Pedroia, Ashley Papelbon, Anna Delcarmen, Juliana Ramirez, and Jacoby Ellsbury's girlfriend, Kelsey Hawkins.

In her book, Jessica Canseco writes that many baseball wives are "kind of damaged and delusional," preferring to talk about "clothes, shoes, meals, diets, and Pilates" instead of "anything that may shatter the happy marriage myth." A onetime Hooters waitress, Canseco is the ex-wife of former baseball player Jose Canseco, who played for seven Major League teams, including the Sox.

Sambataro agrees that the life of a baseball player's wife isn't as easy or glamorous as it might seem. The key, she says, is to maintain your own identity.

"[Jessica Canseco] didn't have anything else," says Sambataro. "I'm from Boston. I get to support my fiance and watch the team I grew up loving, but I don't have to deal with all the other drama. I have a family and a support system here."

She also has a full-time job. Sambataro is in charge of Hits for Kids, Youkilis's fledgling foundation that benefits community-based children's charities and medical research programs in New England and Cincinnati. She organizes events and fund-raisers, runs board meetings, and reviews financial requests.

"Enza's a dynamo - smart and extremely personable," says Youkilis's father, Michael, a jewelry wholesaler in Cincinnati. "This whole foundation - it never would have happened without her. Kevin's not capable of doing something like that.

"Before the Mohegan Sun event, I'd get e-mails from Enza at 3 a.m.," he says, "and I'd e-mail her back saying 'Go to sleep.' "

With all of the money, fame, and adoring female fans, Michael Youkilis says he appreciates how difficult it is to be married to a professional ballplayer. But, he says, his son is a different breed.

"In Johnny Damon's book, he talks about guys having one cellphone for their wives and one for their girlfriends," he says. "That's so foreign to what Kevin would be thinking or doing, and Enza knows that."

For his part, Youkilis says he's looking forward to settling down and starting a family with Sambataro. The couple, who spend the winter in Arizona, plan to have three children.

"The biggest thing about Enza is her energy and sense of humor," Youkilis says. "She's a big kid wrapped in a grown-up's body. She's not, like, just sitting on the couch. . . . She's ready to go."

But is she ready to settle down? On a recent afternoon, while the couple was sitting in the kitchen eating lunch with Mikey, Sambataro was asked when she and Kevin are getting married.

"It's a day-to-day thing," she said, laughing. "Saturday, we weren't getting married because Kevin had too many margaritas. But it's back on now. Right, Kev?"

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