Sam Donnellon: For Phillies pitcher Moyer, season of giving never ends

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Phillies pitcher Jamie Moyer (far left) and his family spent Christmas in Guatemala bringing supplies and cheer to the poor who rely on Central America's largest landfill for survival.

'IT'S JUST an unbelievable situation," Jamie Moyer said over the phone yesterday. "People living in trash, living off the trash. And these are complete families."

Just another week in the life of one of Philadelphia's most intriguing athletes ever. Four days after re-signing with the Phillies, he, his wife, Karen, and their seven kids boarded a private plane, along with 32 boxes full of gifts, and flew to Guatemala City to spread a little Christmas cheer.

The focus of the trip was the Hannah's Hope orphanage, where their seventh and only adopted child, 2-year-old Yenifer, had lived during her early, tenuous months. But the Moyers branched out to do additional mission work, most notably in the basurero - the 40-acre dump in which Guatemala's poorest of poor dwell and rummage, where the corpses of those who cannot afford burial are dumped daily.

"I met a guy from El Salvador who was just so proud of his house, because it had two mattresses in it," Moyer said. "He gave us a tour. So many things we saw. Animals so weak, animals dying. Dogs lying down, so weak they couldn't even wag their tails as you walked by."

"Quite eye-opening," said Karen Moyer, who has made a point of individually taking her older children on "missions" like this one when they turn 16. This time, however, the whole clan went, including her husband, the Phillies World Series hero.

Between his foundation and the camps run for bereaved children, the Moyers' philanthropy in this country has been extensive. But because of his job, and the wide-ranging ages of their children, Jamie had been left behind on Karen's previous sojourns.

Not this time. This time, Moyer was in the middle of it all, spending Christmas at the orphanage that houses children abandoned at the dumping ground, children, like Yenifer, with health issues that threaten their very survival. This time, Moyer took snacks and candy canes to the endless stream of children who roam Central America's largest landfill - and most treacherous one. As recently as last July, garbage avalanches claimed the lives of those who live off the landfill.

Moyer, in his wife's words, "truly walked the walk."

"Walking through the dump, you are literally on 3 or 4 inches of plastic bottles and cartons the entire time," he said. "Our feet never touched the ground."

The contrast with those final days of October was not lost on any of the Moyers either: the family photo atop the mound at Citizens Bank Park, Moyer holding the unearthed pitching rubber; riding on the flatbed truck as a family on that sun-splashed Halloween Friday, as more than 2 million red-shirted and red-eyed fans showed their love.

And, 3 months later, this: families, some of them born there, eating waste from supermarkets, sifting through discarded clothing and materials to fashion a life. Gangs, many with members no older than some of the Moyer kids, terrorizing and endangering the lives of all.

The "guajeros," as the inhabitants are called, had no idea who Moyer was. Despite Guatemala's Central American location, baseball is barely a rumor there. They play soccer. They dig through daily dumps of refuse. They survive, and somehow, said Moyer, they manage to smile.

"I'll never forget the faces," he said. "The handshakes. The happiness of the people, just to see someone else."

"Honestly, you valued what the true meaning of Christmas is," Karen said. "When you have your own children, you try to raise them to be the best human beings possible. I don't think there's a greater lesson: to teach your children that it is important to give back.

"Truly, I couldn't think of a better place to be for Christmas."

Karen Moyer went so far as to call this Christmas "my dream." Having her husband and her children with her in a place of such need, during such a symbolic season, finished off a year that already had proved to be remarkable. It's not every day that a 45-year-old pitcher, a hometown guy, wins a World Series game. But what has happened over the last 2 weeks has been unprecedented. Nobody at the dump knew who Jamie Moyer was, and nobody there cared. He was a guy with candy, a guy with an easy smile, a foreigner who made them feel, ever so briefly, that their part of the world mattered.

And the kids in the orphanage?

They didn't know any of that, either.

But they called him "Poppy" anyway.

"Pretty funny, huh?" Moyer said. "But I loved it." *

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