Baseball honors Roberto Clemente

Major leaguers honored in recognition of Hall of Famer's legacy

By Marc Zarefsky / MLB.com

Published: 09/06/2007 10:57 AM ET

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Roberto Clemente Award nominee Albert Pujols watches a video tribute to Clemente before the Cardinals game on Wednesday. (Tom Gannam/AP)

CHICAGO -- If there is one word to describe Roberto Clemente, his son, Luis, said it is simply, "Greatest."

"Greatest as a player, as a person, as a father, as a husband," Luis Clemente said Wednesday. "Great humanitarian -- anything that great fits, he was there."

Luis Clemente was at Wrigley Field on Wednesday night to honor the life and legacy of his Hall of Fame father on Major League Baseball's sixth annual Roberto Clemente Day. He took part in a pregame ceremony recognizing Chicago Cubs first baseman Derrek Lee as the team's recipient of the Roberto Clemente Award.

Each Major League team had one player named as a club recipient, and the 30 are nominees for the national Roberto Clemente Award, handed out during Game 3 of the 2007 World Series. The award recognizes one player who embodies the characteristics that made Roberto Clemente revered: sportsmanship, community service and positive contributions to his team.

"It stands for what my father lived for and he represented over time," Luis Clemente said. "I think the players that are doing a lot of good and get involved with different charities, to be recognized for that matter is very important, so we will always have players who don't forget the importance of representing baseball, and at the same time as a human being, giving back to society."

Roberto Clemente died in a plane crash New Year's Eve 1972 while delivering supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua. He was a 12-time All-Star and throughout his illustrious playing career, Roberto Clemente exemplified the notions of philanthropy and care for others.

"My father always represented the common people, especially the fans," Luis Clemente said. "He truly respected the fans. He always said that the fans paid his salary, and that's why he took time to talk to them, to sign autographs after the games."

Lee was recognized for his fight against Leber's Congenital Amaurosis (LCA), a rare degenerative disease that causes loss of vision and has left Lee's 4-year-old daughter, Jada, blind in one eye. Lee established Project 3000 in 2006, and has since helped raise more than $1 million to help find a cure for the disease.

"It's humbling," Lee said of the award. "Roberto Clemente, he was known as a Hall of Fame player, but what he did off the field was tremendous. It's just an honor to be recognized with an award under his name."

Lee was presented with a check for $7,500, which will be donated towards Project 3000. Home teams throughout Major League Baseball held similar pregame ceremonies and presented checks to the charity of each player's choosing.

Thanks to the Roberto Clemente Award, as well as Roberto Clemente Day, the Hall of Famer's legacy, both on and off the field, continues to live on.

"Thirty-five years later after his demise, he's still an icon, he's still a role model to many thousands, if not millions of people," Luis Clemente said. "Newborns are still given his name somewhere. [There are] so many places, not only in the United States and Puerto Rico, but also Europe, that have his name commemorating his life.

"Baseball was a great vehicle for him to relay his message, and I feel that those players that are playing today, and being named in every single ballpark tonight as we celebrate Roberto Clemente Day, are a good example of what other children should look up to."

Here is how other teams across baseball honored Clemente's legacy on Wednesday:

Angels: Vladimir Guerrero's arm has often been compared to the late Roberto Clemente. Now, he can rightfully claim another comparison with the great right fielder.

The Angels nominated Guerrero for his community service that he started in Southern California when he signed with the team in 2004. Through his "Vlad's Pad" program, the right fielder donates 127 tickets to each home game. The tickets are distributed to charities in the Southern California area, with a focus on children. Through Vlad's Pad, some 10,000 children attend games courtesy of Guerrero at Angel Stadium.

Guerrero has also been active with the local charitable group "Padres Contra El Cancer," donating game tickets for children and families affected by cancer.

He has also been supportive of the Make-A-Wish Foundation in Orange County and can often be seen taking a few moments to chat with terminally ill children after batting practice. In 2005, Guerrero also donated $50,000 to the American Red Cross for Hurricane Katrina relief.

Guerrero also runs a family business in the Dominican Republic, Los Hermanos Guerrero, which provides several basic services for families and provides local job opportunities.

Braves: Tim Hudson was recognized on the video board before the game, but did not take part in a pregame ceremony because he started Wednesday's game against the Philadelphia Phillies. He is expected to be honored Friday before Atlanta's game against the Washington Nationals.

Brewers: The Brewers honored Jeff Suppan before Wednesday's game. Suppan received $7,500 that will go to two local baseball leagues in Milwaukee's inner-city that serve 700 families. As part of the club-record contract he signed during the offseason, Suppan donates $100,000 per year to Brewers Charities.

Cardinals: Cards first baseman Albert Pujols was recognized on the field before Wednesday's game as the team's nominee. Pujols was joined on the field by Todd Perry, executive director of the Pujols Family Foundation, and presented with a check for $7,500 that will go to the foundation.

Pujols' foundation, which was started in 2005, raises money for different causes, but focuses mainly on the Down Syndrome Association of St. Louis.

Devil Rays: Carl Crawford was recognized before Wednesday night's game against the Orioles. Crawford has directed his community efforts towards assisting youth baseball leagues. Working through the Rays Youth Field Renovation Program, Crawford has provided financial support to rebuild the historic fields of West Tampa Little League, where a number of Major League players got their start. The project will be completed later this month with a field dedication Sept. 25.

Crawford also will conduct a clinic for the league's players next spring. The Houston native also sponsors two 9- and 10-year-old teams in his hometown. That program will soon grow to four or five teams and includes plans to build a baseball complex for the youngsters.

Diamondbacks: The D-backs honored Roberto Clemente prior to the game with a video tribute. Afterwards, second baseman Orlando Hudson was recognized as the D-backs' nominee.

Hudson has teamed with the Phoenix-based Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center (SARRC) since his arrival in the Valley prior to the 2006 season. SARRC is dedicated to research, education and providing resources for individuals with autism spectrum disorders and their familes. Nationals: Ryan Zimmerman was acknowledged as a candidate for the award at RFK stadium. A local representative from Chevrolet gave Zimmerman a check for $7,500 for The ziMS Foundation, which looks to find a cure for multiple sclerosis, a disease that affects the central nervous system.

"It's nice to be recognized. It's nice for them to support it. We are very grateful," Zimmerman said.

Rangers: The Rangers honored shortstop Michael Young before Wednesday's game as their nominee.

For Rangers third baseman Ramon Vazquez, a native of Puerto Rico, the name of the late Pittsburgh Pirates Hall of Famer is still held in high esteem on his native island.

"At one time, the guy was probably the best player in the game," Vazquez said. "Everybody knows who he was. You look at his tapes, he was unbelievable. There was nothing he couldn't do. He could throw, run, hit for power and for average. The guy could do it all.

"He still is and will be the superstar from our island. The sad part is baseball is dying on the island, but nobody will ever forget him. I just wish the sport meant as much as it did when he was playing."

Reds: The Reds played a tribute on the scoreboard video screen to commemorate Roberto Clemente Day before Wednesday's game. An on-field presentation followed where rotation ace Aaron Harang was named the Reds' recipient. Harang was given a $7,500 check from sponsor Chevrolet to benefit the Reds' Community Fund's Miracle League field project at Oskamp Park in Western Hills.

Rockies: Matt Holliday was given a check for $7,500 for his nomination by the Rockies. Holliday donated the money to the Mike Coolbaugh Memorial Fund. Coolbaugh, the former Tulsa Drillers hitting coach, was killed July 22 this season when he was struck in the neck by a line drive.

Tigers: Curtis Granderson was honored in a pregame ceremony as the Tigers' nominee.

Already an active member in charitable work in his second full big league season, Granderson has visited over 10 schools in the metro Detroit area this season to talk to students while also lending his help to raise money for the Coalition on Temporary Shelters to help area homeless. He has made private donations to schools in his hometown of Chicago as well as Detroit, and he donated tickets for two area Little League teams so they could attend a game during the Tigers' Negro Leagues Weekend Celebration in July.

As part of the ceremony, Granderson received a check made out to his Grand Kids Foundation, which was set up to help motivate children of all ages in the educational, artistic and creative aspects of their lives while helping underprivileged children and their families.

Twins: Twins center fielder Torii Hunter was recognized before Wednesday's game as the Twins nominee.

Hunter has spent his entire career working to help children and families in need through charities like the Boys and Girls Club, the Twins Rookie League, the RBI program and Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Twin Cities. Last year, Hunter began his own charity, the Torii Hunter Project, a program to help promote baseball to urban children. He and his wife, Katrina, also funded the Torii and Katrina Hunter Foundation in their hometown of Pine Bluff, Ark.

"I take a lot of pride in being able to help other people," Hunter said. "And just seeing the difference I can make in somebody's life, sometimes just by talking to them, is powerful. I'm glad that I can in some small way give back, because I feel blessed to be where I'm at."

Marc Zarefsky is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.