ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — When the Tampa Bay Rays traded for slugger Nelson Cruz during the regular season, the team was getting more than just a big bat in the middle of its lineup.
They were getting a man who has been awarded the 2021 Roberto Clemente Award for his “extraordinary character, community involvement, philanthropy and positive contributions, on and off the field."
Major League Baseball announced Cruz as the winner Wednesday. The honor is given annually and is determined by the league's commissioner, Clemente’s children, former players journalists and fans.
All 30 MLB teams nominate one player who is deserving of the award. Only one winner is selected.
The award was originally called the Commissioner’s Award but in 1973, it was renamed for Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente, who was and still is lauded for his commitment to community and his understanding of the value of helping others.
In 1972, Clemente tragically died in a plane crash en route to Nicaragua to assist with earthquake relief.
This year, Cruz was nominated by the Minnesota Twins prior to his departure for Tampa Bay. According to MLB.com, “such was his impact on the Twins in his two-plus seasons in Minnesota that the organization decided to stick with him as its annual nominee for the Clemente Award for the second straight season.”
Cruz has spent his off-the-field career “empowering people in situations of social vulnerability…using sports and education to help kids reach their potential to become leaders and improve their quality of life,” his bio for the award on MLB’s website reads.
It goes on to say that Cruz fed more than 700 families in his home country of the Dominican Republic as the COVID-19 pandemic swept the globe. He’s also provided financial support to those not able to work.
On top of all of that, he’s also helped lead a $400,000 donation from the MLB, the MLB Players Association and the Players Trust to the Dominican Republic to essential needs during the pandemic.
He’s also been long recognized for bringing dentists and optometrists to his hometown in the Dominican Republic for those who cannot access care on their own.
Cruz, a 2021 All-Star, was traded to Tampa Bay on July 22. In 55 games with the Rays, he hit 13 home runs and drove in 36 RBIs.