By Mark Newman/MLB.com
09/02/09 8:00 PM ET
They raise money and supplies for children in need, fight to cure diseases, deliver medical supplies to impoverished areas, match strikeout totals with money for military troops, establish scholarships, offer support groups for cancer survivors and quietly sacrifice their time in myriad other ways to help make the world a better place.
They are more than Major League Baseball players.
They are Roberto Clemente Award nominees.Voting is under way through Oct. 4, as fans help decide which of 30 club nominees will win this prestigious annual award presented by Chevy -- given to the player who best combines outstanding skills on the baseball field with devoted work in the community. Wednesday marks the eighth annual Roberto Clemente Day, which was established by Major League Baseball to honor Clemente's legacy and to officially recognize local club recipients of the Roberto Clemente Award.
The award is named for the 12-time All-Star and Hall of Famer who died in a plane crash on Dec. 31, 1972, while attempting to deliver supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua. The award perpetuates Clemente's achievements and character by recognizing current-day players who truly understand the value of helping others.
"I would like to congratulate and thank each of the 2009 club nominees of the Roberto Clemente Award for their exceptional play on the field and dedication to their local communities," Commissioner Bud Selig said. "Major League Baseball and Chevy have continued this joint partnership in honoring one of the game's greatest players and a remarkable individual. For the 30 players representing their clubs, it is a great achievement being mentioned alongside Roberto Clemente and they have represented Major League Baseball with honor."
Fan balloting lasts a month, and the fan ballot winner will be tallied as one vote among those cast by a special selection panel of baseball dignitaries and media members. The panel includes Selig and Vera Clemente, widow of the Pirates' Hall of Fame right fielder whose spirit and goodwill always will be remembered. The winner will be announced before Game 3 of the World Series, a long tradition that continued when Albert Pujols of the Cardinals won it last fall.
You might be there in person the same night that the 2009 winner is announced, because voting fans are automatically registered for a chance to win a trip for four to Game 3 of the Fall Classic. It will be at a National League ballpark to be determined later.
Each club determined its nominee, and if you are one of those 30 nominees, then your credentials cannot be summarized in a brief way. Read the individual articles about each nominee on their respective club sites here, and then help decide this important honor."Giving back, that's the key, I think, to being a professional athlete," Red Sox nominee Kevin Youkilis said. "There's a lot of stuff you can do by just taking a little bit of time to help some causes and create awareness in the community."
Youkilis, who just celebrated the second anniversary of Kevin Youkilis Hits for Kids, along with his wife Enza, described the feeling of being able to help a child in need:
"It's better than coming to the ballpark a lot of times and winning ballgames. ... Winning here is a great thing, but when you can win the hearts of kids and see the difference you're making in a child's life and maybe helping him grow up to be a great person in life or do something great, that's a lot better feeling then what we do in our jobs here."
Perhaps the truest hallmark of the average Roberto Clemente Award nominee is the selfless love reflected in the words of Paul Maholm, who plays for the same Pirates organization that has Clemente's statue outside its gates. Maholm works with the support group Gilda's Club in honor of his mother, who in 2005 lost a lengthy battle with colon cancer:
"I don't think I do a whole lot," Maholm said. "But I guess in some people's eyes it just goes a little further."
Rangers third baseman Michael Young -- whose many community endeavors includes a longtime role with "Wipe Out Kids' Cancer" -- said his second consecutive nomination "means everything to me. First of all, it's not a reflection so much of my work but my wife Cristina and family. My family deserves all the credit.
"But to be nominated for an award named after Roberto Clemente -- one of the great humanitarians in all of sports -- is humbling. Not only is he a Hall of Fame player, but respected for the work he did off the field. It's tough to put into words."
Mariners pitcher Miguel Batista, who uses his offseasons for community service by traveling throughout the U.S. and Latin America to deliver baseball equipment and medical supplies, and speak to kids of all ages to stress the importance of education and determination, said just being nominated "is a great honor," and to actually win it would be one of the best things that ever happened to him.
"It would be a great honor for anything," Batista said, "but especially satisfying for a Latino player. I remember talking to [Albert] Pujols about it. He won it last year and we agreed that it probably means more to us than other people because of who Roberto Clemente was.
"There have been a lot of great Latin players, but no one did what he did."
Maybe this is the year that Barry Zito's popular "Strikeouts For Troops" project leads to the ultimate community recognition within the national pastime. The Giants' pitcher founded this endeavor in 2005 to provide aid and comfort to wounded troops returning from Afghanistan and Iraq who are recovering in military hospitals nationwide, and he has raised about $2 million in contributions from more than 65 Major Leaguers, fan donations and special events.
The list of players who have thrown their support behind Zito includes some of the game's biggest stars, such as Pujols, Jake Peavy, Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez and CC Sabathia. It's a "team" that has grown slowly but steadily each year.
"We didn't want to be a flash in the pan," Zito said. "We just wanted to build up slow momentum. War or no war, it's just great to help these men and women. Even after the war's over, whenever that day comes, we still want to keep this going."
Johan Santana was knocked out of Cy Young Award consideration when his season ended early, but he has a chance for an honor just as big -- if not bigger. The Mets' ace from Venezuela formed the Johan Santana Foundation, which provides funding for programs that focus on education and healthcare in his baseball and offseason homes. He would love to be the Mets' fourth winner of this award, joining a list that includes Gary Carter in 1989, Al Leiter in 2000 and Carlos Delgado in 2006.
"I made a promise to myself," Santana says, "that when I made it to the big leagues, that I would take care of the people who took care of me when I was young."
Padres nominee Adrian Gonzalez is heavily involved in his San Diego community, and he said it is something he would have done even had he not reached his current level of stature as a pro athlete.
"I wouldn't say it's my responsibility. It's something I think we decide to take upon," Gonzalez said. "It's something that the Bible specifically says to go out and be a servant and try to do everything you can to help out. It's not a responsibility, but it's something we definitely take seriously."
Mark Newmanis enterprise editor of MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.