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Rays’ Nelson Cruz wins prestigious Roberto Clemente Award

The veteran, who was nominated by his former Twins team, has done extensive work to help those in his Dominican Republic hometown.
Rays designated hitter Nelson Cruz, who was nominated by the Twins, won Major League Baseball’s prestigious Roberto Clemente Award.
Rays designated hitter Nelson Cruz, who was nominated by the Twins, won Major League Baseball’s prestigious Roberto Clemente Award. [ SUE OGROCKI | AP ]
Published Oct. 27
Updated Oct. 28

Rays designated hitter Nelson Cruz won Major League Baseball’s prestigious Roberto Clemente Award.

The award recognizes a player who best represents the game “through extraordinary character, community involvement, philanthropy and positive contributions, both on and off the field.” Cruz was nominated by the Twins, who traded him to the Rays on July 22.

He has made substantial contributions to his remote Dominican Republic hometown of Las Matas de Santa Cruz, including a health clinic, police station (plus motorcycles and supplies for officers), fire truck and other firefighting equipment (including uniforms for 80 firefighters) and supplies, as well as an ambulance and medical supplies.

Cruz, 41, arranged for annual visits from dentists and optometrists to provide checkups, care and eyewear. He provided food for more than 700 families during the pandemic, as well as other resources and services, such as organizing sports activities for kids and improving those facilities. He also is working through his Boomstick23 Foundation to complete funding and construction on a computer and technical education center.

Winning an award named for Clemente, a legendary player and humanitarian, was special, Cruz said.

“It’s just a privilege and honor,” he said before Wednesday’s morning announcement and his pregame introduction at Game 2 of the World Series. “I think I don’t have the words to describe how enjoyable these awards are for me and my family. Like I said in the past, we put a lot of work into the community never thinking to be really recognized. Most players do, because we think it’s the right thing to do.

“But it’s always nice to be recognized, and especially since this is the highest award you can get as a baseball player, something that I’m really proud of. As a Latino, I know that Roberto influenced so many Latin players to do what we do. It’s been just an honor to win this award.”

Cruz had been nominated twice previously for the award, by the Twins in 2020 and the Mariners in 2018. Last year, he won the Players Choice Marvin Miller Man of the Year award, voted by his peers, and the ESPYs’ Muhammad Ali Sports Humanitarian Award.

“It’s been two incredible years from Muhammad Ali to Roberto Clemente. It’s just been a blessing and pushed me to work harder for my community and for the things that I believe, that I can help others to have a better life,” Cruz said.

“I know all 29 other players that were nominated really deserved to win it. I just thank God that I was the one. I’ve been nominated before two other times. It’s something that I always hoped to win.”

Cruz, who will be a free agent following the World Series, also was involved in projects in the Minneapolis area — which was why the Twins decided to keep him as their nominee even though they could have changed after the trade — and in Tampa Bay during his short stint with the Rays.

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Pitcher Ryan Yarbrough was the Rays’ nominee.

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