Rays honor Archer as Clemente Award nominee

Chris Archer

BY ANDREW CAPLAN, Contributor

ST. PETERSBURG –Baseball fans know the name Roberto Clemente.

They may not know he was a 15-time All-Star, a league and World Series MVP, that his career batting average was .317 or that he amassed 3,000 hits in his 18-year career.

But they know what he stood for, helping others.

For the past 43 years, MLB has honored one of its greatest humanitarians by giving an annual award in Clemente’s name to players who exemplify the same ideals and community involvement the former Pittsburgh Pirate displayed throughout his life.

The Roberto Clemente Award, previously named the Commissioner’s Award in 1971-72, allows each of MLB’s 30 teams to nominate a player who meet the criteria before a winner is selected at the end of the season. Some notable past winners include Pete Rose, Cal Ripken Jr., Tony Gwynn, Derek Jeter and David Ortiz.

Last weekend, the Tampa Bay Rays recognized its nominee, pitcher Chris Archer, for all he has done for bay area kids since breaking into the majors in 2013. It is the second-consecutive year he has been nominated.

“I feel the reason we are on this earth is to be a positive influence and to positively impact as many lives as we can,” Archer said. “I try to use baseball and my success in my industry as a platform to do that, and hopefully one day I can reach millions.”

Some of Archer’s efforts include frequent visits to children at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, popping in at the Pinellas County Juvenile Detention Center to offer guidance and assisting the Heart Gallery in 2015 to find a 15-year-old foster child a permanent home.

Archer has hosted several fundraisers, sponsors two youth baseball teams through his organization, the Archway Foundation, and has donated tens of thousands of dollars to local organizations.

Through his own campaign, his club-record 252 strikeouts last season raised $18,900 to be split between Burg Baseball and Tampa RBI and his 200-plus strikeouts this year will raise a similar amount.

He has traveled to South Africa and Taiwan the past couple years to bring awareness for the sport to youngsters in different countries.

His efforts have gained him respect around the league, but more importantly in the locker room.

“I’ve been around here for three years and every year he’s doing something,” said teammate Kevin Kiermaier, while proudly sporting a No. 21 Clemente shirt. “It kind of blows me away because I know I couldn’t handle the workload. It’s our responsibility to give back to the community whenever you can when you’re in our position. Archer does a great job with everything he does off the field.

“It’s going to be hard to top a Roberto Clemente or Jackie Robinson, but at the same time we all get to write our own little stories.”

Last Friday Archer took the mound to pitch against the Boston Red Sox, a day which celebrated Roberto Clemente Day.

Although Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz, the 2011 Clemente Award winner, didn’t field questions from the general media during pregame, he offered a private moment in the dugout to reflect on Clemente’s legacy, while congratulating his opponent on the nomination.

“The Roberto Clemente Award, everyone already knows what it’s all about,” Ortiz said. “When you talk about Roberto Clemente, you’re talking about history. You’re talking about someone that left everything out on the field and ended up passing away trying to do something for some others.”

Clemente embodied everything a sport could ask of someone; not only was a star, he used his platform to give back to those less fortunate.

Up until a plane crash, which claimed his life, Clemente was still trying to help others.

On New Year’s Eve in 1972, Clemente was aboard a flight to bring aid to earthquake victims in Nicaragua, a place he visited weeks prior. He previously sent three shipments, but suspected they were taken by profiteers. To ensure the shipment wasn’t diverted again, Clemente and three others went to deliver it in person.

The fourth care package, however, never made it either. Clemente’s plane experienced mechanical failure and crashed into the Atlantic Ocean shortly after takeoff, killing the crew.

Clemente’s body was never found. He was 38.

Like Archer, Red Sox outfielder Brock Holt was nominated back-to-back years as well. Holt came up in the Pirates organization and said he remembers hearing and seeing Clemente’s name often.

“We don’t do the stuff off the field for recognition or accolades,” Holt said. “But to get nominated with anything with his name on it is a huge honor.”

Ortiz, who is retiring at the end of the season, said he is proud of both Holt and Archer and added that players have the responsibility to extend their giving ways even after they hang it up.

The weekend also marked Ortiz’s last trip to Tropicana Field before he retires at season’s end. Although he admires Archer, he showed no remorse during the game when he blasted a two-run home run off the nominee in the first inning, hitting the D-ring catwalk, which also won the game.

“Us as players, we dedicate our time off the field to do things for the community,” he said. “So that’s something that, to me, is never going to end.”

Contact reporter Andrew Caplan on Twitter @AACaplan.

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