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Giving back in native PR, Beltran wins Clemente Award

Growing up idolizing Hall of Famer, outfielder assists with Foundation, Academy

ST. LOUIS -- Carlos Beltran just added another story to his October legend.

On Saturday, the Cardinals right fielder from Puerto Rico became the seventh player in Major League Baseball history to receive the prestigious Roberto Clemente Award presented by Chevrolet -- the game's top humanitarian honor -- while playing in a World Series. Beltran was presented with the award in a news conference before Game 3 against the Red Sox, and he was given a standing ovation by the crowd during the pregame ceremony.

The 36-year-old Beltran -- who along with his wife, Jessica, founded the Carlos Beltran Foundation with the mission of empowering young people to achieve their dreams through sports and education -- joins a select group, including Derek Jeter (2009, Yankees), Curt Schilling (2001, D-backs), Al Leiter (2000, Mets), Dave Stewart (1990, A's), Steve Garvey (1981, Dodgers) and Pete Rose (1976, Reds).

The annual award recognizes a Major League player who best represents the game of baseball through positive contributions on and off the field, including sportsmanship and community involvement. The Clemente Award pays tribute to Clemente's achievements and character by recognizing current players who truly understand the value of helping others. It is named for the Hall of Famer and 15-time All-Star who died in a plane crash on New Year's Eve 1972 while attempting to deliver supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua.

"I think being able to play this game and being able to win awards playing the game of baseball, this is something that ... we have to do," Beltran said. "But giving back, not everyone chooses to do that. And that's something that I take a lot of pride in. I take a lot of pride not only playing the game of baseball, but I also take a lot of pride giving back, because I know when you give back, doors are going to be opened for you in your life."

This was a remarkable Clemente Award presentation in many ways. Cards manager Mike Matheny and general manager John Mozeliak both came into the news conference to watch Beltran's acceptance of the award, an extraordinary gesture considering the timing of events. And it was a moving scene as Vera Clemente, Roberto's widow and an MLB goodwill ambassador, sat next to Beltran at the head table and repeatedly hugged him as they shared love of country and mission. Her grandson, Roberto Antonio, is a senior at the Carlos Beltran Baseball Academy (CBBA) -- an institution that played probably the largest role in Beltran winning this honor.

"I must say this year's recipient truly exemplifies Roberto's philosophy," said Vera, who attends each year's presentation ceremony. "Carlos Beltran, you are the pride of all Puerto Ricans, and a great representative around the world."

The Carlos Beltran Foundation strives to provide a dynamic learning experience where young people can develop and enhance their athletic gifts and excel academically. As part of the Foundation's efforts, the Beltrans opened the Academy in Puerto Rico, and Beltran envisioned it as a place to develop talented young athletes while offering a first-rate education in a specialized training program that teaches students to approach their academic career with discipline.

Beltran has personally given more than $4 million toward the Academy. He created the CBBA as a means of giving others the opportunities that he did not have when he was a teenager in Puerto Rico. It opened on Aug. 24, 2011, and the 2013 graduating class had 43 seniors either move on to collegiate baseball programs or go into the First-Year Player Draft. The graduation ceremony took place on an off-day on the Cardinals' schedule, and Beltran flew to Puerto Rico to present their diplomas.

"Major League Baseball is thrilled to present our most prestigious off-field honor, the Roberto Clemente Award, to a fellow gifted Puerto Rican standout, Carlos Beltran," Commissioner Bud Selig said. "It is an honor to recognize one of our game's most accomplished players and his wife, Jessica, for their extraordinary work through the Carlos Beltran Foundation and the Carlos Beltran Baseball Academy. Their family's commitment to making a difference in the lives of young people in St. Louis and their home of Puerto Rico is a powerful example for others and a testament to the philanthropic spirit of Roberto Clemente."

That spirit shines in Puerto Rico, but it goes well beyond it, as the Busch Stadium reaction stood as testament. Each year, the Beltrans raise money through various fundraising events in St. Louis and Puerto Rico to keep the CBBA on the cutting edge and provide the kids of Puerto Rico with the best learning environment possible. Since joining the Cards in 2012, Beltran has made an impact on and off the field, entrenching himself and his family in the local community.

Beltran has committed his time and donations to various initiatives and groups throughout St. Louis, including "Baskets of Hope" with the Cardinal Glennon Children's Hospital, bringing smiles to the faces of young children in need of one; his "Beltran's Buddies" program, with which he provides game tickets and meets with underprivileged kids through the Latino Outreach Group; and offering eight $2,500 scholarship awards through the "Carlos Beltran Scholarship Award" program with the Hispanic Arts Council.

"When I saw that it was going to be announced during the World Series, I really hoped it would be him, for a number of reasons," Matheny said just before the presentation. "We have seen the impact that he has made around here, which is not what this award is about. You start seeing the passion he has for people also mixed with the passion he has for his country -- which I know is also not what this is about -- but as you start putting into context with Roberto Clemente, I don't think there could be anybody that could fill that as good as Carlos can.

"What he's done and what he's continuing to do over there in helping promote the game ... there are a lot of guys who have a passion for the game and go back and do something, but what he has done is incredible. The lives that he has impacted and how he's promoting the game, how he's promoting the Puerto Rican players and helping out some kids that may have otherwise not had a chance, that's really what community service is.

"He and Jessica, I think it's just class people. Class people just can't help but wherever they go, they want to make an impact. They realize there is a platform. They realize there is an opportunity. It's not for personal gain, it's about being responsible for passing it forward. He's done that."

Beltran becomes the fourth member of the Cardinals to receive the Clemente Award, joining nine-time All-Star Albert Pujols and Hall of Famers Lou Brock and Ozzie Smith.

Beltran was selected from a list of 30 club nominees by a panel of dignitaries that included Selig, Vera Clemente, Hall of Fame broadcaster and "Spanish voice of the Los Angeles Dodgers" Jaime Jarrin, Hall of Fame broadcaster and former All-Star Tim McCarver, FOX broadcaster Joe Buck, MLB Network analysts and former Clemente Award winners Al Leiter and Harold Reynolds, Hall of Famer, ESPN analyst and former Clemente Award winner Barry Larkin, ESPN analyst and former Clemente Award winner Rick Sutcliffe, Hall of Famer and TBS analyst Dennis Eckersley, TBS analyst Buck Martinez, senior correspondent Hal Bodley and Chevrolet national promotions manager Mike Weidman.

Additionally, there were more than 1.3 million fan votes for the award, and the winner of the fan vote was tallied as one vote among those cast by the selection panel.

Willie Mays won the first of these honors in 1971, when it was known as the Commissioner's Award, to recognize community service around the game. Mays is one of 14 Hall of Famers on the distinguished list of recipients. After 1972, the award was dedicated in Clemente's name.

"We are truly honored to be able to amplify the importance of this award and to carry on its support, Roberto Clemente's legacy," said Chevrolet promotions and media group manager Lisa Grutta. "With our partnership with Chevrolet and Major League Baseball, we have contributed and donated more than $2 million to charitable organizations across the country."

On the field, Beltran remains a model of consistency, and he has a flair for the remarkable in the postseason. He batted .296 and led the Cardinals in home runs (24) for a second consecutive season, and he was elected to his eighth All-Star Game. Beltran reached the 20-homer plateau in three consecutive seasons for the first time since doing so from 2006-08 for the Mets. The switch-hitting slugger recorded his 350th career homer on June 15 at Miami, and he finished the regular season with 358 dingers, ranking fifth all-time among switch-hitters.

Beltran is playing in his first World Series after playing in 26 League Championship Series games and in 2,064 regular-season games. His 37 career postseason RBIs rank seventh all-time, and his 16 career postseason homers rank eighth all-time. In Game 1 of this year's Fall Classic, Beltran made an electrifying catch to rob David Ortiz of a grand slam, bruising his ribs in the process. The right fielder was listed as day to day and then played a key role in the Cards' Game 2 victory in Boston.

Beltran was born in 1977, a little more than four years after Roberto Clemente died. As a boy, Beltran soon learned the importance of the man for whom the trophy statue he held Saturday was made.

"When I was a kid, I always wanted to be like him in one way, meaning having the opportunity to play baseball, having the opportunity to give back," Beltran said. "And he has been a good role model for all Puerto Rican players. But not only Puerto Rican players, he is a guy that impacted baseball worldwide by the way he played the game, by also how good he was outside the baseball lines, giving back to the community and giving back to the people.

"For my country back home, Puerto Rico, this is going to be something that's going to be special. As a country right now, we are going through tough moments, and I think this news is going to help the country to continue to move forward."

The Clemente Award presentation was part of MLB's fifth annual World Series community initiative program for Games 1-4, each game dedicated to different themes for a lasting legacy. As the backdrop to Game 3, MLB highlighted its commitment to youth from underserved communities through events involving Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI), the importance of education through the Breaking Barriers program, and celebrating community service through the announcement of the Clemente Award.

Game 4 on Sunday will look to inspire fans worldwide to join MLB and Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C) in advancing the fight against cancer. In Boston, Game 1 was dedicated to Welcome Back Veterans, while Game 2 focused on two longtime MLB charitable partners in Boys & Girls Clubs of America and Habitat for Humanity, as well as the Baseball Tomorrow Fund.

Mark Newman is enterprise editor of Read and join other baseball fans on his community blog.
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