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Roberto Clemente Day on deck09/21/2004 10:00 PM ET
By Ed Eagle / MLB.com
PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Pirates right fielder Roberto Clemente's incredible physical talent and unyielding will to succeed helped him to become a superstar, but it was his unique philanthropic spirit that made him a legend.
On Dec. 31, 1972, just months after collecting his milestone 3,000th hit, Clemente boarded a plane from his native Puerto Rico to deliver relief aid to earthquake-stricken victims in Nicaragua. Tragically, Clemente's plane crashed into the Atlantic Ocean soon after takeoff.
To honor the lasting memory of one of the game's great ambassadors, Major League Baseball celebrated the third annual Roberto Clemente Day on Wednesday at ballparks across the league.
"It is a great honor that a day has been set up throughout Major League Baseball to recognize my father. It is truly overwhelming," said Clemente's son, Roberto, Jr. "For Major League Baseball to celebrate this day is special for my family."
As part of the celebration, 30 local nominees for the Roberto Clemente Award presented by John Hancock will be announced. Home teams will recognize their candidates during pregame ceremonies on Sept. 22. Road teams will honor their nominees when they return to their home parks.
The annual award, which is presented each year to the Major League player who bests demonstrates Clemente's commitment to helping those in need, was known as the Commissioner's Award from 1970-72 before being renamed in 1973 following Clemente's untimely death.
"[Clemente] will be remembered as a great baseball player and humanitarian," said Commissioner Bud Selig. "To honor his legacy, we have designated this special day to not only remember Roberto, but to honor those players who have contributed so much to their communities."
Clemente spent each of his 18 big league seasons with the Pirates from 1955-72, leading the Bucs to the world championship in 1960 and 1971. A 12-time All Star and 12-time Gold Glove winner, Clemente won four National League batting titles and was selected as the 1966 NL MVP and 1971 World Series MVP.
It is fitting that Roberto's widow, Vera, and sons Roberto Jr. and Luis Clemente will be on hand at PNC Park to announce Pittsburgh's local Clemente Award nominee Craig Wilson. The Clemente's will present Wilson with a check from award sponsor John Hancock for $2,500, which he will in turn donate to the Bats to Beat Breast Cancer fund.
In recognition of the special visit from the Clemente family, the Pirates have announced plans for a special promotion at PNC Park on Sept. 22. All fans who attend that night's game between the Pirates and Cubs will be given a scratch-off ticket. Each fan will receive a special item honoring Clemente. Prizes will include vintage Clemente jerseys, t-shirts, pins, pennants and nesting dolls. The two grand prizes will be a 1955 Clemente rookie card and a baseball autographed by Clemente.
The national recipient of the 2004 Roberto Clemente Award presented by John Hancock will be announced during the 2004 World Series. The award winner will receive a commemorative medallion, a donation to the charity of his choice from John Hancock Financial Services and a donation made in the winner's name to Roberto Clemente Sports City -- the Clemente family's 304-acre sports complex in Carolina, Puerto Rico.
In addition to Wilson, the nominees for the 2004 national award are Anaheim's Tim Salmon, Arizona's Matt Mantei, Atlanta's John Smoltz, Baltimore's B.J. Surhoff, Boston's Tim Wakefield, Chicago Cubs' Kerry Wood, Chicago White Sox's Jose Valentin, Cincinnati's Sean Casey, Cleveland's Matt Lawton, Colorado's Charles Johnson, Detroit's Dmitri Young, Florida's Jeff Conine, Houston's Roger Clemens, Kansas City's Mike Sweeney, Los Angeles' Jose Lima, Milwaukee's Geoff Jenkins, Minnesota's Brad Radke, Montreal's Brad Wilkerson, New York Mets' Mike Cameron, New York Yankees' Mike Mussina, Oakland's Tim Hudson, Philadelphia's Bobby Abreu, St. Louis' Mike Matheny, San Diego's Ryan Klesko, San Francisco's Scott Eyre, Seattle's Edgar Martinez, Tampa Bay's Toby Hall, Texas' Rusty Greer and Toronto's Roy Halladay.
Recent winners include: Jamie Moyer (2003), Jim Thome (2002), Curt Schilling (2001), Al Leiter (2000) and Tony Gwynn (1999). The last Pirates player to win the Clemente Award was Willie Stargell in 1974.
"There are a lot of guys doing great things and it is great that they are being recognized," said Clemente, Jr. "A lot of players tell me this is the most important award they have ever won."
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
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