MIAMI -- As a player, Andre Dawson won the respect and admiration of his peers and fans for his work ethic and dedication in 21 Major League seasons.
A career .279 hitter with 438 home runs and 1,591 RBIs, Dawson has Hall of Fame credentials, but he still has fallen short of induction into Cooperstown. In January, Dawson finished sixth in the Hall of Fame balloting, collecting 270 of the needed 387 votes to get elected.
Nicknamed "Hawk," he was the National League's MVP in 1987. Blessed with speed and power, the Miami native appeared in eight All-Star Games and won the Gold Glove as an outfielder eight times.
As a person, Dawson remains a role model for many because of his professionalism.
Entering his sixth season as the Marlins' special assistant to the president, Dawson is a frequent visitor to schools and a representative for the team at numerous public events.
With Black History Month upon us, Dawson is reminded not to forget his upbringing and the role athletics plays in society.
"You take Black History Month seriously, because personally for me, it was an awareness of culture and the people who were mentors," Dawson said. "People who made an impact on the black race, and people who in actuality did what they felt they had to do for the betterment of the black race. As a player over the years, I've tried to share that with these kids. When I talk to kids at the schools, I try to share with them the significance, the importance of how the black educators tried to make aware what education can do for you as far as your livelihood is concerned."
Even now, Dawson is touching lives with his celebrity. When speaking to children, Dawson makes it a point to stress one major message.
"I try to put myself in their situation and make them understand that, 'Hey, I was you at one time.' Through dedication, determination and hard work, you can make something out of your life," said Dawson, who in 1987 was honored by his alma mater, Southwest Miami Senior High, with the school renaming a street "Andre Dawson Drive."
Dawson clearly worked for all he accomplished. At the end of his playing career, with the Marlins in 1995-96, Dawson was performing on hobbled knees that required constant treatment. Despite the pain, he labored on, squeezing every last inning out of his tremendous career. His teammates appreciated his courage and love of the game.
As a child, Dawson's role model didn't wear a uniform with a number of the back.
"My mentor, I will tell [students], always was my grandmother," Dawson said. "She didn't have a whole lot, but the one thing she did have was all the right answers. That's what you need. It's not about coming up through life with a silver spoon in your mouth. It's about how you make adjustments, day in and day out, and all that you do to be able to do the things you want to do later on in life. In doing so, you surround yourself with people who have your best interests at heart and can lead you along the way."
Dawson doesn't shun the notion that athletes are role models. He knows that, like it or not, they are. And he feels a sport like baseball can positively influence people's lives.
"I think, No. 1, [athletes] have to be model citizens," Dawson said. "You're always in the limelight. You're always in the public. You get a lot of attention and you get a lot of media coverage. You want to be a positive role model. You want to be a positive citizen. People like to sort of pattern themselves over the course of life as an athlete. They grasp that. But what they don't realize is we're human beings. What they do is they grasp for us, they cling to us. And sometimes they are let down. That's just a part of life that they can't understand until later on in life."
Growing up in Miami, the team Dawson saw most frequently on TV was the Braves. In those years, they featured stars like Hank Aaron. But Dawson's favorite player was less heralded. It was Dusty Baker, now the Cubs manager.
"I liked Dusty Baker. I liked his play. I liked the way he went about the game, and how he conducted himself," Dawson said. "Of course, as a youngster, as a kid, the players who stand out are the superstars. They're the ones who get all the attention. Those are the ones you tend to cling to first. But I always tried to watch the work ethic of some of the younger players, and tried to see what they did to get that little extra edge to stay ahead and be successful."
Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.