Higashioka nominated for Clemente Award

September 15th, 2021

BALTIMORE -- Each year, one MLB player from every team is selected as a nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award as somebody who represents the game of baseball through extraordinary character and community involvement, both on and off the field.

For the 2021 Yankees, that player is Kyle Higashioka.

In 2006, MLB opened its first Youth Academy in Compton, Calif. Among the athletes who attended the inaugural camp was Higashioka. He grew up roughly 25 miles away in Huntington Beach, looking for any and every opportunity to achieve his goal of playing professional baseball.

Two years later, Higashioka was selected out of Edison High School in the seventh round of the 2008 MLB Draft by the Yankees. As the catcher climbed the Minor League ranks, he never forgot the impact the MLB Youth Academy had on him and the trajectory of his career. He spent numerous offseasons volunteering his time to support the social reach of the program.

“I got to see what they do, how they operate and how they help inner-city youth,” Higashioka said. “It's not just baseball. They have Major League-caliber coaches there and Major League facilities. But most kids that go through, they aren't going to play in the big leagues. So they also do a lot to help with after-school programs, and I think they have a STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] program there that they're working on. That can prepare kids for any type of life, whether it's professional baseball or getting in the workforce.”

Higashioka's passion for making baseball more accessible led him to partner with the New York State Public High School Athletic Association. Higashioka hosted a Zoom call with students who take part in the National School Lunch Program in hopes of encouraging participants for their athletic and academic careers.

“Baseball has taught me a lot,” Higashioka said. “It's going to teach you a lot about adversity, failure, how to deal with it. [It teaches you] how to continuously work hard and to try to achieve your goals. It can teach you a lot about life if you kind of take a step back and see what you have to do to be successful in this game.”

Sept. 15 is now Roberto Clemente Day around MLB, giving certain players the opportunity to wear Clemente's No. 21 on their jerseys. All players and uniformed personnel of Puerto Rican descent can wear the number, as well as the 2021 Clemente Award nominees and past winners of the award, which includes Yankees first baseman Anthony Rizzo.

All players and coaches wear patches to commemorate Clemente’s legacy.

“It's just incredible to be mentioned in the same breath as a guy like Roberto Clemente,” Higashioka said. “He did so much for the game of baseball and for his community. He's just a role model for every player that plays this game.”

Fans can vote for what is considered one of baseball's most prestigious individual honors through the end of the regular season (Oct. 3). The winner of the fan vote will count as one vote among those cast by a panel that will select the winner of the award.