SAN FRANCISCO -- You get the feeling that if Barry Zito and Roberto Clemente had been teammates, they would have spent a lot of time off the field together.
Clemente, the Hall of Fame outfielder who involved himself heavily in charitable endeavors in Puerto Rico and other Latin American countries, was all about helping his fellow man. He died on New Year's Eve 1972, when his plane crashed off the coast of San Juan, Puerto Rico, as he tried to deliver aid to Nicaraguan earthquake victims.
When Zito's not on the mound, he and his wife, Amber, are often engaging in some sort of activity for the greater good, and the left-hander earned the Giants' nomination for this year's Clemente Award. Zito has devoted himself to numerous causes, though he's chiefly linked to Strikeouts For Troops, the nonprofit organization Zito founded in April 2005 to provide the comforts of home to wounded soldiers.
Tuesday is Roberto Clemente Day throughout Major League Baseball, a day instituted on the 30th anniversary of his passing in 1972 to keep alive Clemente's spirit of giving. Voting runs from Sept. 17 through Oct. 6 at chevybaseball.com as fans help decide which of those 30 club winners will receive this prestigious recognition. The nominees were chosen based on their dedication to giving back to the community, as well as their outstanding ability on the field.
Strikeouts For Troops has enabled loved ones to travel to be near injured family members and provides adaptive equipment for easy transitions at home and other necessities. It also has helped support morale-building events, research and treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder issues, and supplied holiday gifts and meals for military children.
"It's great to have the sports and entertainment world to get us away from the daily grind of life, but all that stuff goes away when a family member is ill or when you have an illness yourself," Zito has said. "So to focus on the things that really matter ... that's what it really means."
In addition to founding and overseeing Strikeouts For Troops, Zito and Amber also support the St. Anthony Foundation, which provides thousands of meals every day to San Francisco's hungry and homeless. They also support the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, Muscular Dystrophy Association, Special Olympics, Make-A-Wish Foundation, improving global illiteracy, organ donation and cancer research.
Earlier this year, Zito won the Hutch Award for his outstanding community service. The Hutch Award is a national honor presented by the Seattle-based Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and has been given every year since 1965 in memory of Major League player and manager Fred Hutchinson, who died of cancer a year earlier at the age of 45.