'An honor': Alonso up for '21 Clemente Award

September 16th, 2021

NEW YORK -- Before a game last weekend, emerged from the Mets' clubhouse to meet with Paul Veneto, a retired United Airlines flight attendant who had just pushed an airplane beverage cart from Logan Airport in Boston to Ground Zero in New York as a way to keep the memories of that day’s victims alive.

Veneto’s mission intersects neatly with what Alonso is trying to accomplish through his Homers for Heroes foundation, which he established last year alongside his fiancée, Haley Walsh. As Alonso continues to expand his organization’s scope, he simply wants to help, and he has done enough already in his young career to earn the Mets’ nomination for the 2021 Roberto Clemente Award -- Major League Baseball’s highest off-field distinction.

“It’s truly an honor,” Alonso said. “I’m just really thankful for the recognition, but I’m just trying to do good in the community. There’s a lot of things that I want to be able to tackle and improve upon in the community, and I just want to be able to keep continuing to be an ally here in New York and every single borough. I just want to continue to bring positivity and whatever positive change needs to happen.”

Considered one of baseball’s most prestigious individual honors, the Clemente Award annually recognizes the MLB player who best represents the game through extraordinary character, community involvement, philanthropy and positive contributions, both on the field and off. Fans can vote for the Roberto Clemente Award through the end of the regular season on Oct. 3. The winner of the fan vote will count as one vote among those cast by a blue-ribbon panel that will select the winner.

When Alonso established his foundation in 2020, he did so with an eye toward helping those affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. That work began with a program honoring “60 heroes in 60 days,” from school teachers to doctors, nurses and others working on the front lines. Alonso filmed personalized videos for hospital workers and made a guest appearance during a Zoom math class for Jericho High School students.

But Alonso’s passion for philanthropy has since extended well beyond the pandemic. One of his first public charitable endeavors was donating 10 percent of his Home Run Derby winnings to the Wounded Warrior Project and the Tunnel to Towers Foundation, the latter of which works to help those impacted by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. That’s a mission close to the heart of Alonso, who has not only met with Veneto twice since moving to New York, but also designed custom 9/11 cleats that he donated to the 9/11 Memorial Museum in 2019.

Additional programs are on tap for Alonso and Walsh, who want to work with children (they have already run a series of camps “to give some positive reinforcement and just kind of spread the good”) and animals (they intend to provide food and money to local no-kill shelters). To pay for it all, Alonso and Walsh are working on a series of fundraisers, beginning with a series of offseason fishing trips near their home in Florida.

No cause is out of bounds for the duo, who want “to be flexible and help out wherever we can.”

As for the recognition, it’s a bonus for Alonso, who understands the significance of his nomination. During a recent trip to Pittsburgh, he had an opportunity to go to the Clemente Museum, where he toured the building and had a chance to hold one of Clemente’s awards from his playing days.

“He was just an incredible individual,” Alonso said. “To be a nominee for his award is just an honor. He was a really special player, obviously, in the Hall of Fame and did a ton of amazing things between the lines. But it’s just really special to be considered to win that award, because I think that’s an incredible thing, people noticing the hard work I do off the field. I feel like it’s a heart and personality thing as well, so it really means a lot that I’m nominated.”