HOUSTON, Texas — Roberto Clemente was one of the very few individuals in baseball to stand as a symbol of selflessness and dedication to helping those in need. His humanity exemplifies the purest form of a kind heart, filled with the driven desire to make a difference in this world.
The Roberto Clemente Award stands as an emblem of a person’s dedication to forging initiatives that serve a great purpose beyond the action on the diamond. Major League Baseball announced that Dominican Republic native Nelson Cruz is the 2021 Roberto Clemente Award recipient for his acts of charity and contributions to his hometown of Las Matas de Santa Cruz.
“I remember my first few years in the Big Leagues, I always see Michael Jordan doing the stuff, and that was one of the things I would say, I want to do that one day,” Cruz said after accepting the prestigious award. “But growing up, my dad and my mom, they always involve events for the community, try to get the community better. Whatever it takes, whatever the needs, they find a way. Even today, they’re really involved in the community. That was an example that I followed to do the work that I do right now. So from the bottom of my heart, my family, my foundation, thanks, everybody.”
Cruz was nominated for the award three times in the past four years. The first time was in 2018 as a member of the Seattle Mariners, the second and third time as a member of the Minnesota Twins in 2020 and 2021 (Cruz spent the first half of the 2021 season as a member of the Twins before being traded to the Tampa Bay Rays on July 22).
The 41-year-old veteran has an outpouring list dedicated to the work he’s done in his hometown, which includes his work during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. Cruz has provided food for more than 700 families and provided financial support to those who were unable to work during the pandemic. In addition, Cruz’s contributions have supported nearly 1,200 families due to the outcomes of the worldwide pandemic.
The dedication Cruz has instilled within his community began long before the COVID-19 pandemic. It first began with the establishment of his nonprofit organization, the Boomstick23 Foundation. Their mission:
The Boomstick23 Foundation is committed to generating social impact by empowering children and young people in situations of social vulnerability; developing skills and abilities through education and sports to improve the environment and their quality of life (Boomstick23.org).
The foundation is in the process of building an educational and technical center, a space that will be utilized to train and provide skills needed to guide individuals towards possibilities of employment and income stability. They also bring dentists and optometrists to the Las Matas de Santa Cruz clinic to provide checkups, medicine, and eyewear for those who need it. In 2020 alone, 500 patients received dental services with Cruz’s help and assistance.
The need to help athletes pursue their dreams of playing in Major League Baseball has become imperative to Cruz, who will equip the center with computers to guide students to becoming attentive student-athletes to allow them to pursue a high school and college education.
“We try to bring players to my hometown so they can share the experience with the kids,” Cruz said about his efforts in the Dominican Republic. “It’s not much about what they can teach about baseball because there’s much you can learn one day about baseball, but the experience and what it takes to become a Big League player. Hopefully, that can be experiences for those kids.”
On top of the various ways Cruz has been able to impact his community, he has also provided tools and necessities for emergency services such as a fire engine, firefighter uniforms, and an ambulance to transport people to the nearest hospital that is located an hour away from town.
Cruz’s work has not gone unnoticed around the league. It is highly respected by players and MLB personnel as he was able to initiate support from MLB and the Major League Baseball Association and the MLPA Players Trust that gathered $400,000 in donations concerning food insecurities in the Dominican Republic caused by the pandemic.
“Well, growing up as a Latin, you always heard about Roberto Clemente. I was like — but I never had a chance to see him play,” Cruz said when reflecting on the legacy of Roberto Clemente. “I knew what a great player he was. Once I came to the States I found out, oh, he’s not only a good player, he’s a great human being. He loves his life and tried to help others. There’s no better example when you lost your life trying to give back to others.
That’s the ultimate sacrifice.”
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