Bednar on Clemente Award: 'Pay it forward and pay it back'

September 16th, 2023

This story was excerpted from Justice delos Santos’ Pirates Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox

Derek Shelton harbors a bit of a bias regarding who should win the 2023 Roberto Clemente Award. Given he manages the Pirates, generally, and , the team’s nominee this year, specifically, that bias is understandable.

“Bednar's a two-time nominee. He won the [Pirates'] Heart and Hustle Award,” Shelton said on Roberto Clemente Day. “It'd be really special and really important if he won that award this year. We're talking about a guy who lives here in the offseason. He's a born and bred Pittsburgher and loves it.”

Bednar, since being traded from the Padres to the Pirates in January, has seldom missed an opportunity to give back to his community.

After recording his 34th and 35th saves on Wednesday night and Thursday afternoon, Bednar joined Roberto Clemente Jr., Harold Reynolds and Connor Joe Friday on the morning of Roberto Clemente Day to visit the Allegheny Health Network Cancer Institute. There, they provided comfort packages for Glimmer of Hope Metastatic Breast Cancer Center patients. Bednar has also been involved with Lending Hearts, a local organization that helps support families impacted by pediatric cancer.

Last October, following the launch of Chill Mobile, Bednar visited several schools in the Pittsburgh area and spoke to students to help reduce the stigma surrounding mental health and wellness. Bednar also participated in the second-annual Pirates Charities Family Walk at PNC Park during Mental Health Awareness Month, with all proceeds going to the Chill Mobile program. 

In November, Bednar joined the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank and participated in a Thanksgiving dinner distribution event alongside former and current members of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Steelers. They ensured that more than 300 families had the means to enjoy the holiday. Bednar also helped spearhead an effort to secure more than 500 canned goods for Light of Life Rescue Mission, a Pittsburgh-based homeless shelter.

Bednar has also been involved in the Miracle League, which has had a presence in western Pennsylvania for about 15 years. He’s shown up to all three Miracle League Fantasy Camps this season alongside teammates and coaches, helping guide the campers through a variety of baseball drills. 

“The course of a Major League season is a grind,” said Shelton. “There's time where he's pitched the night before, or maybe it's two nights ago, where maybe he pitches and has to grind through it and he's still doing things. … When we talked about the nomination with our group, they told me that he hadn’t said no to [anything] that he had been asked to do. That's extremely special because there's times when you don't feel good, you got stuff going on, he makes the time regardless of what he's doing.”

“I’m just so fortunate and so blessed to be in this spot,” Bednar said. “I just want to give back any chance I get. I’m so proud to be from Pittsburgh. I was those little kids once."

Bednar, who grew up a Pirates fan in Mars, Pa., roughly 25 miles north of Pittsburgh, recalled one of his Little League opening days when several Pirates showed up for the event. He can’t remember who attended all these years later, but he remembers the feeling of seeing Major Leaguers in person and wanting their autographs. 

“I know how much it would mean to me if somebody from the Pirates, Steelers or Penguins would show up,” Bednar said. “I’m just trying to pay it forward and pay it back.”

Bednar has given back to his community, and this past offseason, his community gave back to him. In February, he became the first athlete in Mars Area High School history to have his jersey retired. 

“I’ve seen some of the athletes who have been through here, and they’re incredibly talented and doing big things,” Bednar said in February. “So, to be the first one, it’s really an honor. I’m incredibly proud of it. I’m so proud of this high school, so proud to be from Pittsburgh, and I try to do my best to represent the area as well as I can.”

Based on his two Clemente Award nominations and two All-Star appearances, Bednar is certainly representing the area just fine.