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Schilling family is hosting nine from New Orleans

Last autumn, Curt Schilling helped the Red Sox win it all. Now, he and his wife, Shonda, are helping a New Orleans family of nine who have lost almost everything.

Moved by the plight of thousands of Gulf Coast residents whose lives were shattered by Hurricane Katrina, the star pitcher and his wife arranged to fly up a family and to put them up in a Boston-area hotel, where the family has been since Saturday.

The Fields family has seven children, four boys and three girls. They are between the ages of 5 and 12. The family fled its New Orleans home just before the storm, with only a few clothes and groceries.

As they realized the scope of the devastation in New Orleans, the Schillings decided to help, and they chose a personal, immediate gesture rather than a simple contribution of money.

''When we realized how many people had nowhere to go, we didn't just want to make a donation," Shonda Schilling said yesterday.

''We decided we wanted to bring an entire family here and put them up," she added. ''We all need to take care of each other at a time like this."

The Fields family spent last week in an Atlanta-area hotel, with the help of a charitable group. While staying there, they were contacted by a woman who had set up a website, openyourhome.com, to match displaced families with people willing to take them in.

The Schillings registered on the site Friday; on Saturday they anonymously arranged for the family to fly to Boston. The Fields had never even been to the Northeast. But with little money and no place to go, they accepted the offer.

''He said, 'I would like to help you,' " Efrem Fields, 31, said in a phone interview from his hotel yesterday. ''He didn't say who he was. He just said, 'You have a big family, and it's hard to take care of a big family in hard times.' He's right about that -- it is."

A van showed up at the hotel to take the family to the airport on Saturday afternoon. Fields and his wife, Shelita, 28, were frightened to fly, but they managed. They arrived in Boston that evening.

The Schillings, who have four children 10 and younger, visited the family at the hotel. It was then that Fields learned who had helped his family.

''I said, 'Wait a second, I know this guy,' " said Fields, a big baseball fan. ''Schilling . . . Schilling, there's only one Schilling I know, and he's a baseball player! It blew my mind."

When the two families met, Fields said, ''it was a beautiful experience." The children instantly hit it off and have been playing together most days since, both families say.

The Schillings have pledged to provide housing for the family for a year, and are trying to arrange for the children to attend school. The Fieldses plan to attend their first-ever Major League baseball game, tonight at Fenway Park.

The Schillings have visited the family frequently since they arrived, bringing clothing, medicine and toys, and have called several times to check in, Fields said.

''They are beautiful people, God-loving people," Fields said. ''I am very grateful for what he's done for me."

Though the Schillings are outspoken advocates for many causes, notably ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease, the Schillings made arrangements for the Fields family quietly, and discussed it only after they were contacted by The Boston Globe.

The Schillings are known for charitable work. In 2001, Curt Schilling won the Roberto Clemente Award, given annually to the Major League player who combines outstanding skills on the field with work in the community.

The pitcher said the wives of other Major League ballplayers are also trying to arrange to help families in need.

In New Orleans, Fields's first instinct was to stay at home and weather the storm, but the family decided to leave town as reports grew more dire. All his and his wife's relatives also evacuated safely, he said, and they are now scattered across the South.

''I didn't know where we were going. We just picked up and drove," said Fields, who also thanked people in the Atlanta area for their kindness and generosity. ''My children were pretty scared, but I thought we'd be coming back in a couple of days."

Fields said he contacted his boss at the fuel company he works for and learned his neighborhood was badly damaged. He does not expect to salvage his home or his belongings. Of particular loss is an urn with the cremation ashes of twins born prematurely, who died a few years ago, he said. ''It's a very sad thing to lose," he said.

Fields is also saddened by the devastation in New Orleans, but isn't sure if they will return.

''We're just trying to get on right now," he said. ''I haven't figured out what's next. I am just glad all my family is all right, and we pray for the families."

''As long as I have my kids to play with, my spirits are good. As long as we can all drive each other up the wall, that's a good thing," he said with a chuckle.

Shonda Schilling said it is heartwarming to see the two families interact. She knows they've been through more than she can imagine.

''I'm trying not to cry when I see them," she said. ''They can't cry yet. They are still in shock. But it's a beautiful family, and they are all together."

Peter Schworm can be reached at schworm @globe.com.

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