Upton's support for kids earns Clemente nod
D-backs outfielder champions 'Batter up with Buddies'
PHOENIX -- D-backs right fielder Justin Upton has been compared to some of baseball's all-time greats because of the potential he has flashed on the diamond.Now the 22-year-old Upton is being mentioned in the same conversation as a Hall of Fame right fielder because of the good will he has shown off it. On Tuesday, Arizona's slugger was officially named his club's nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award presented by Chevrolet. "With his name being attached to anything," Upton said, "you want to be a part of it. "It's awesome. I've been working hard on and off the field and being recognized for it is exciting and definitely an honor." All 30 nominees have immersed themselves in the type of humanitarian and community efforts that distinguished the life of Clemente, a life that ended at age 38 on New Year's Eve 1972 with the crash of a plane aboard which he was personally delivering aid to Nicaraguan earthquake victims. Fans will once again have the opportunity to participate in the selection of the award's national winner. They can cast votes for any of the 30 club nominees through Oct. 8. The fan-ballot winner will be tallied as one vote among those cast by a special selection panel of baseball dignitaries and media members. The panel includes Commissioner Bud Selig and Vera Clemente, widow of the Hall of Fame right fielder. Voting fans also will be automatically registered for a chance to win a trip for four to the 2010 World Series to see the national winner presented with the Roberto Clemente Award. Upton's candidacy originates from "Batter up with Buddies," which D-backs officials approached him with as a way to get involved in the community. In conjunction with Best Buddies Arizona -- former D-backs starting pitcher Russ Ortiz is a member of the nonprofit organization's advisory board -- the project aims to team local youth who have intellectual and developmental disabilities with student volunteers. It received $5,000 of funding as part of this summer's Pepsi Refresh Project, a competition between 15 Major League clubs. (The Minnesota Twins' proposal, Courage Center's Rolling Twins youth softball wheelchair team, won the hotly contested $200,000 grant.) Upton, who appeared in promotional ads urging others to support "Batter up with Buddies," firmly believes in his own cause. "Being able to help kids who obviously aren't as gifted as other kids, it's good for them," Upton said. "Hopefully, I can help them in any way I can 'cause it's important that we make everyone [be able to] enjoy our community and how things run here. You want things to run smoothly and you want to back each other up." Upton visited Best Buddies International's local chapter, a 15-minute drive from Chase Field in Phoenix, earlier this summer. "It was a great opportunity for me as far as getting involved," he said. "Going to that facility to help the underprivileged kids, it's unbelievable the impact that [volunteers] have on those kids' lives. It touched me, and that's the reason I'm a part of it." In addition to his work with Best Buddies, Upton over the last year visited local hospitals; helped to raise $50,000 for Phoenix's Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center at St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center; and, partnering with the Arizona Diamondbacks Foundation, donated $20,000 to the Heart of Champion Foundation, which benefits schools' character-education programs.
For more information on Best Buddies Arizona, visit www.bestbuddiesarizona.org. To learn about volunteering, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Andrew Pentis is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.