11/05/2004 4:54 PM ET
Stenson remembered a year later
AFL names sportsmanship award in his honor
By Jonathan Mayo / MLB.com
MESA, Ariz. -- Friday marked the one-year anniversary of Dernell Stenson's death and the Arizona Fall League is still feeling the impact of the tragedy.
|Dernell Stenson played 37 games for the Reds in 2003. (David Kohl/AP)
Security had always been addressed at the start of the AFL season, but telling the league's participants to be careful while playing in the elite baseball "graduate school" has taken on more importance.
Stenson played in the AFL as part of the Reds organization last year and was having a terrific season until he was murdered in Chandler on Nov. 5 of last year. The investigation into the homicide has been completed and two men remain in custody awaiting trial.
The talk about Stenson and what happened a year ago has had an uplifting quality as well. MLB.com is working with the AFL to hand out the first annual Dernell Stenson Sportsmanship Award. The award will be given annually to the AFL player who demonstrates the qualities Dernell brought to the ballpark every day: a quiet, hard-nosed attitude, a player who does his job without complaint, who plays the game the way it was meant to be played.
The manager, coaches and players from each team will be asked to nominate one player each year. The AFL, in conjunction with MLB.com, will then select one winner from the six nominees.
The winner will be presented with a plaque in a special on-field presentation on the final day of the AFL regular season. In addition, MLB.com will make a donation to the charity of the winner's choosing.
The AFL has donated a one-of-a-kind AFL jersey worn by Mike Piazza in 1993 and later autographed by the Mets' All-Star catcher, which will be be auctioned off on MLB.com. The auction will begin on Monday, Nov. 8 at 12 p.m. ET and the proceeds will be used for the charitable donation.
"Dernell's death was a very difficult situation for the league," said Steve Cobb, executive vice president of the Arizona Fall League. "We suffered a tremendous loss but we came together as a family last year. At this point, we want to remember the contributions Dernell Stenson made to this league, in his work ethic and his dedication to the game.
"We think this is a fitting way to remember Dernell and we are pleased to work hand-in-hand with MLB.com to make this happen."
Twins catcher Rob Bowen and Rockies infielder Jayson Nix are both repeat participants in the AFL. While neither knew Stenson well personally, they were clearly affected by the events here last year and by the lasting impact Stenson's attitude had on all who knew him.
"I think [the award] is a great idea," Bowen said. "Just seeing Dernell's persona on the field, this seems like the proper award for him. 'Sportsmanship' exemplified him perfectly."
"This league is special," Nix added. "There's not a lot of hoopla or a lot of energy from the crowd. It's a testament to the players who come out here and play the game the right way.
"Everybody says Dernell was a great guy. It's a great way to honor him and honor a player who comes here and does what he did."
Even players no longer in the league who have gone on to the big leagues don't forget Stenson's legacy. David DeJesus is no longer a prospect and could be the Royals' center fielder in 2005. Still, he remembers vividly the night that changed every 2003 AFL participant and how Stenson approached the game.
"I was at the place that night he was there, but I never got to meet him," DeJesus recalled. "Everyone said he was a great teammate, that he loved the game and played it the right way.
"It would be a great honor to receive that award."
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.