10/26/2004 9:27 PM ET
Edgar Martinez wins Clemente
Recently retired DH the first Puerto Rican to win honor
By Jim Street / MLB.com
|Edgar Martinez listens as the Roberto Clemente Award is presented to him on Tuesday. (James Finley/AP)
ST. LOUIS -- An award that honors one of the greatest baseball players and humanitarians in Major League history has come home.
For the first time in the 32-year history of the Roberto Clemente Award -- baseball's highest honor for community service -- a fellow Puerto Rican was presented the prestigious off-the-field award Tuesday night at Busch Stadium, where recently retired Mariners designated hitter Edgar Martinez received the award from Commissioner Bud Selig prior to Game 3 of the World Series.
"To have Edgar be the first one (from Puerto Rico) to win the award is very special to our family," said Roberto Clemente Jr. "We think the world of Edgar, and what he has done on and off the field is outstanding and wonderful. I truly believe he is the right guy to be the first."
Martinez, who retired last month after an 18-year career with the Mariners, received a $25,000 check to Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy, and award sponsor John Hancock Financial Services will make a $30,000 donation in his name to the Roberto Clemente Sports City, a multipurpose sports and education center in Puerto Rico.
"I grew up idolizing Roberto Clemente," Martinez said. "Watching him play in the 1971 World Series is one of the main factors in me playing baseball. I have always admired him, as a player and a person. He was the biggest sports figure in Puerto Rico when he played, and probably still is."
Martinez pointed out that it was ironic his love of the game started while watching Clemente during the '71 World Series and now, only a month after he retired, he received the Clemente Award.
| AWARD RECIPIENTS|
||Cal Ripken, Jr.
With the coveted award being presented during the Fall Classic, Martinez was able to attend the first World Series game of his life. The Mariners came close -- being eliminated in the AL Championship Series in 1995, 2000 and again in 2001.
"I'm getting ready to go and enjoy the game," he said. "I'm looking forward to sitting with (son) Alex and (wife) Holli, having a hot dog and beer and watching two teams play. As far as I can remember, this is the first time I have watched a game from the stands."
Clemente was a 12-time All-Star and played his entire 18-year Major League career, which began in 1955, with the Pirates. He participated in two World Series, was a four-time National League batting champion, a 12-time Gold Glove winner, NL Most Valuable Player in 1966 and World Series MVP in 1971.
He collected his 3,000th hit on Sept. 30, 1972, on his final regular-season at-bat. Three months later, he was killed in an airplane accident while delivering relief supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua.
It was announced at Tuesday night's presentation that on Dec. 30, the junior Clemente would complete the mission his father started 34 years ago, delivering supplies to Nicaragua.
Since 1972, MLB annually has presented an award (known originally as The Commissioner's Award) to recognize the player who best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and the individual's contribution to his team.
Mariners teammate Jamie Moyer won the award last year and former Seattle second baseman Harold Reynolds was the 1991 recipient.
Martinez said he was surprised to learn that he's the first Puerto Rico native to win the award.
"I know of quite a few players from Puerto Rico who are involved in their communities, so I was surprised when I heard that," he said.
Martinez, who grew up in Dorado, Puerto Rico -- located nearly 50 miles north of San Juan -- can relate to Clemente because both learned how to play baseball in Puerto Rico.
"I never saw him play, other than on television in the 1971 World Series," Martinez said, "but I heard so much about him from people who did see him play. They talked about the way he played the game.
"That is why this award means so much to me. It is more about making a contribution off the field instead of on the field."
Martinez said he discovered in the early 1990s how important it was to give back to the community by helping others. And that was especially the case when he made his first visit to Children's Hospital in Seattle.
"It was a very difficult thing to do then, and it still is," he said. "Some kids are really sick, and that is hard to see. It's tough, but if you can make one child smile, it makes your day. Some are so sick they don't know you're in the room and others don't know who you are.
"But there also are some kids who are (Mariners) fans and they get very excited to see you. It makes you feel great that you are helping out a great cause. And it helps both ways."
Among the charities Martinez has supported are Children's Hospital, Overlake Hospital, Make-A-Wish Foundation, Big Brothers and Big Sisters, Boys & Girls Clubs and Mariners Care.
Martinez is a longtime supporter of Children's Hospital and two years ago served as the honorary chairperson of Children's Hospital Wishing Well Night at Safeco Field, which raised more than $120,000.
He was selected in 2003 as the United Way of King County Community All-Star Award winner for his contributions to that charitable organization.
Selig praised Martinez and his wife for their charitable contributions.
"I was in Seattle the final Saturday of the (regular) season when Edgar and Holli were honored. I must say that I have been in this sport for nearly 40 years and don't think I have seen a night where there was more love and affection shown to a player.
"It was obvious to me that as great a player Edgar Martinez has been on the field, he has been a greater human being off the field."
The award, sponsored by John Hancock Financial Services, recognizes those individuals who truly understand the value of helping others.
A panel of baseball dignitaries, including Clemente's widow, Vera, and Selig, annually selects a winner from a list of 30 nominees, one from each MLB club.
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.