Moving from big leagues to the farm team - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Local News

Moving from big leagues to the farm team

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Posted: Friday, March 27, 2009 3:33 pm | Updated: 2:13 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

Professional baseball player Shea Hillenbrand is running a veritable Noah’s Ark on 25 acres in Gilbert. Dubbed Marley Farms, Hillenbrand and his wife, Jessica, board horses, host competitive equine events and run a petting zoo.

SLIDESHOW: Marley Farms

Professional baseball player Shea Hillenbrand is running a veritable Noah’s Ark on 25 acres in Gilbert. Dubbed Marley Farms, Hillenbrand and his wife, Jessica, board horses, host competitive equine events and run a petting zoo.

SLIDESHOW: Marley Farms

As if that weren’t enough, the couple also offers sanctuary to abandoned, abused and neglected animals that include everything from macaws and emus to a camel.

“I always tell people that I was a deprived farmer that grew up in the city,” The longtime East Valley resident and former Mesa Mountain View High School Toro said.

Hillenbrand, 33, has played for a number of major and minor league teams including the Arizona Diamondbacks, Toronto Blue Jays and Boston Red Sox. He last played in the big leagues in 2007.

Marley Farms is located on Val Vista Drive, just north of Hunt Highway on the Gilbert-Chandler border. The Hillenbrands purchased the property in 2007 and christened it with the name of their first dog, a black Schnauzer.

“Jessica and I have always had a passion for animals,” Hillenbrand said Wednesday afternoon, while walking a Queensland Heeler named Eli past a pen full of goats and emus that were competing for his attention.

Eli was one of more than 50 dogs the Hillenbrands recently took from local owners who could no longer keep them. Some had lost homes to foreclosure.

The couple also operates a nonprofit foundation called Against All Odds that pairs abused, neglected, disabled or underprivileged kids with rescued animals on the farm that have, in many cases, endured similar backgrounds.

Between Hillenbrand’s private collection of animals, the petting zoo, and the animal rescue and adoption operations, Marley Farms is home to more than 100 animals.

Currently, that includes 30 dogs, 16 horses, four llamas and three pigs just to name a few, and Hillenbrand said every last one has a name.

“Our animals are like our kids,” he said.

Marley Farms is seeking volunteers, including veterinarians, for the animal rescue operations. They’re also seeking donations from retail pet stores, including damaged or torn bags of animal feed.

On April 25, Marley Farms will host a Hawaiian-style luau to raise money for the Against All Odds Foundation. The party is open to the public and will feature live music, dancing, food and beverages as well as access to the petting zoo.

Admission is $15, or $20 at the door. The event runs from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. For more information, call (480) 895-8453.

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