September 8, 2010

The legacy of Roberto Clemente lives on

Torii Hunter is everything one could hope for in a baseball player. He’s a dynamic talent on the field. He plays the game with passion and comes to the ball park with a smile and a positive attitude every day. Off the field, he’s equally, if not even more dynamic with his service to the community and his philanthropic endeavors.

Torii Hunter is simply, without question my favorite player in the game today. I like the way he carries himself. Long before he ever put on an Angels uniform, Hunter was the guy I loved to watch more than any other. He put a premium on defense and made it cool to be a great defensive player.

My all-time favorite player is Roberto Clemente, the Hall of Famer who played for the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1955-1972. He captured my attention as a young kid in 1971, the year the Pirates won a World Series. It was the first year the World Series had night games and that allowed kids like me to tune in at night. 1971 will always be special because it was the first World Series that captured my attention. It was also the year I was introduced to the talent of Clemente and thus, one of my fondest baseball memories.

Clemente died tragically on December 31, 1972 in a plane crash while taking supplies to victims of an earthquake in Nicaragua. He was one of the most gifted baseball players of all time, but his greatest attribute was in his service to those in need.

Yesterday (Sept. 7, 2010), Major League Baseball announced that Torii Hunter was named the Angels’ 2010 nominee for the prestigious Roberto Clemente Award presented by Chevrolet.

How perfect. Rather than blogging about the abysmal season that is the Angels’ 2010 campaign, I have something better to focus on today.

Today is the 9th Annual Roberto Clemente Day, which was established by Major League Baseball to honor Clemente’s legacy and to officially recognize local Club nominees of the Roberto Clemente Award presented by Chevrolet.

The Award recognizes players who best represent the game of baseball through sportsmanship, community involvement and positive contributions to their Clubs.

There are 30 nominees, but I’m here to focus on just one.

In an era when the Nyjer Morgans of the world grab headlines, it’s nice to take some time to recognize those who are actually doing something positive in the world. It’s actually a pleasure to be able to focus on one of the good guys of the game; and that’s Torii Hunter.

I couldn’t tell you who the other 29 nominees are; although I could look it up. All I know is that the award has been given out every year since 1971 and an Angel has never won it. It would be an awesome honor for Hunter to be the first.

I received a press release from the Angels yesterday announcing the nomination. Here’s an excerpt:

Torii Hunter’s passion for helping others sets him apart as one of the true ambassadors of the game. His primary charitable work is done with his own charity, The Torii Hunter Project a program founded in January of 2006. The Torii Hunter Project is a comprehensive, long-term effort to impact youth in need in various locations throughout the United States. The project has four areas of focus related to youth: Sports, Community, Education, and Wellness. Torii and his wife Katrina have personally contributed over $1 million to the project. These efforts include youth athletic facilities in Southern California and Pine Bluff, AR; assistance for children in need, homeless families, children with terminal illnesses, and other community-based and wellness support.

The Torii Hunter Project Education Initiative officially kicked off in 2008. The initiative, which is operated by the Heart of a Champion Foundation, focuses on two aspects: the Heart of a Champion character education curriculum, which is delivered to students in Anaheim, CA, Pine Bluff, AR and Minneapolis, MN and the Hunter’s Hundred scholarship program, which will provide college scholarships to 100 students from Anaheim, Pine Bluff and Las Vegas, NV over the next four years. The goal of the initiative is to raise five million dollars over the next four years to fund both programs. Reaching this goal will enable The Torii Hunter Project to provide the Heart of a Champion program to over 50,000 students, and to fund college scholarships for at least 100 high school graduates.

“Torii’s impact goes far beyond the game of baseball,” stated Angels community relations coordinator Lindsay McHolm. “His most impressive accomplishments are those that have come away from the baseball field, in the community and in the lives of children. He exemplifies what it means to give back to the community that so strongly supports him.”

“Being nominated for this award is very special to me,” Hunter stated. “Roberto Clemente is a hero of mine not just because of his incredible talent, but because of his strong character and his passion for helping others. I am truly honored to be considered for this incredible award.”

As I sit here and think about Hunter’s nomination, I can’t help but smile and think that two of my all-time favorites could be connected via this award.

The Torii Hunter Project lists this educational initiative on its web site: “The way I grew up was pretty tough, I vowed to myself, that if I ever got the opportunity to help anybody that I was going to do it. That's one of the reasons why I'm so passionate about helping kids." - Torii Hunter.

Fans can participate in the voting process by visiting the official site. The winner of the fan poll will receive one vote among those cast by the selection panel, which includes Vera Clemente, wife of the late Hall of Famer; Commissioner Selig; MLB Network analyst and former Roberto Clemente Award winner Harold Reynolds; MLB Network analyst, TBS broadcaster and former Roberto Clemente Award winner John Smoltz; Hall of Famer and ESPN broadcaster Joe Morgan; former All-Star catcher and FOX broadcaster Tim McCarver; and senior correspondent Hal Bodley.

In closing, I tried to draw parallels between the two careers, but found more differences than similarities. Clemente was the much more accomplished offensive player and although both have won multiple gold gloves (12 for Clemente and 9 for Hunter) Clemente had the superior arm. Comparing the two for what they accomplish on the field wouldn't be fair. Clemente is a Hall of Famer; and a 12 time all-star. Hunter is a spectacular talent, but most likely won't end up in Cooperstown.

Regardless, both are on the only list that really matters on this blog and that's my all-time favorites list (Bobby Grich is my favorite Angel of all time, Hunter is my favorite player in the game today and Clemente is my all time favorite player, period). Just saying.

Off the field - it's clear the two are definitely peers and their passion for serving others is certainly worth noting. I salute Torii Hunter's nomination and applaud the legacy of Roberto Clemente. To think that the two could be connected iva this award is simply awesome.

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