Clemente nominee McCann's service is deeply personal

October 5th, 2022

NEW YORK -- One of the lingering effects of the pandemic was that, in many cases, the most sensitive areas of hospitals could not accommodate visitors for a long period of time. That meant people such as and his wife Jessica, who had made it their mission to support newborn intensive care units around their home, were not allowed to make the sorts of trips to which they had become accustomed.

When the restrictions finally eased, the McCanns sprang back into action. One of the things they noticed during hospital visits is that oftentimes, nurses are as grateful as the patients for the support. So the McCanns began taking their mission further, inviting multiple groups of NICU nurses to a Citi Field suite in September. At those events, Jessica McCann took time to share the family’s own story while James played on the field.

“Not many people know all that goes into being a neonatal nurse,” James said. “Until you experience it firsthand, you don’t know how much those people do. It’s been nice to be able to give back to both the patients and the nurses.”

In large part because of his work with neonatal nurses and patients, McCann is the Mets’ nominee for the 2022 Roberto Clemente Award -- Major League Baseball’s most prestigious off-field honor. The award is presented each year to the player who best represents the philanthropic ideals of Clemente, who died on his way to deliver relief supplies to Nicaragua following an earthquake in 1972. This is McCann’s first nomination.

“Being just associated with the name Roberto Clemente is special in itself,” said McCann, who caught the Mets’ combined no-hitter in April. “What he did, it goes without saying that it’s bigger than baseball. … When you see the names of past winners and also the names of other nominees, to be in the same conversation means a lot. You don’t do it to get the recognition, but to be in the conversation is pretty great.”

McCann’s call to this type of work began in December 2017, after his and Jessica’s twin boys were born prematurely. For the next seven weeks, the McCanns became intimately familiar with the Vanderbilt Children’s Neonatology Intensive Care Clinics in Nashville, Tenn. They were touched in particular by a gesture from country music stars Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, who donated gift cards for every family in the NICU around Christmas.

That year, the McCanns decided that each Mother’s Day they would pay the donations forward to help mothers at a local NICU near where James was playing -- first Detroit, then eventually Chicago and New York. On Father’s Day, they would seek out dads in need of help. On Opening Day and around the holidays, they would provide additional donations of money and time. The couple’s informal pact has since expanded to include regular hospital visits around Nashville and New York, as well as the group events for nurses at Citi Field.

McCann has also taken part in MLB’s “Share a Moment with Mom” program to support breast cancer awareness and research, and he has hosted local firefighters and other servicemen and women at Citi Field. But the NICU support is deeply personal for McCann, who knows what it means to be able to offer true empathy.

“I didn’t even know what the NICU was until I experienced it,” McCann said. “... Being able to go in and visit with families and just share our story and show that there are brighter days ahead, and a reminder that we’re thinking of them, that’s huge -- just being there, being visible. Especially in this area, a Mets player shows up, it’s like, ‘Man, there’s someone out there who’s been in my shoes before.’ It goes a long way.”