Ortiz finds reward in giving back
Clemente Award nominee recognizes value of volunteer work
SAN FRANCISCO -- It's been a tough season for Russ Ortiz, between trips to the disabled list and now arm surgery, but just because he hasn't been able to give much on the field hasn't stopped him from giving off it."It's been a tough year, but no matter if you're doing well or not, being involved in your city is bigger than all that," Ortiz said. The charitable work and community contributions that Ortiz participates in during his little time away from the baseball field, and even at the field, have earned him a nomination for the annual Roberto Clemente Award. The award recognizes the player who best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and the individual's contribution to his team. It is named in honor of the former Pirates outfielder whose spirit and goodwill will always be remembered. Clemente died in a plane crash while attempting to transport relief supplies to earthquake-stricken Nicaragua on Dec. 31, 1972. The winner will be announced during the World Series. Ortiz's name might not be called, but the nomination is already enough recognition and then some for him. It would be an honor to win, but that's not really what motivates Ortiz to give back. "I don't want to get involved in these organizations because I want to get an award," he said. "I was taught awhile back that you do this to be a good person, and I enjoy it." Ortiz says the reward is seeing a child's face light up when he brings him to his first Major League game and takes him out on the field. The reward is knowing that he's made someone's life a little better, even if it's just a day. "Really, you can give all the money you want and that stuff, but when you volunteer your time, that could be one of the most valuable experiences you give a kid," Ortiz said. "To give them something that they can talk about or go back to if they're having a bad day, those are the things you hope to accomplish. Ortiz spreads his volunteer time among the ARC of San Francisco, Friend Zone, Homeward Bound, Volunteers of America, Make-A-Wish, Gilead House, Family House -- and that's just in San Francisco. His self-started Ortiz Family Foundation offers scholarships, encourages others to get involved and supports several other community organizations in Arizona.
It seems like a lot of work, but Ortiz modestly explained that everything he does is pretty small scale when compared with Clemente.The way Ortiz sees it, playing professional baseball gives him the chance to make a big difference. Winning a ballgame feels great, but it's his performance off the field that defines him. "As a player, a lot of kids look up to you, and when you do stuff off the field, it sets a big example," Ortiz said. "I think every ballplayer needs to be involved in the community, somehow, some way, whether it's your first day or you've been playing for 15 years."
Becky Regan is an associate reporter at MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.