09/02/08 9:00 PM ET
Pena garners Clemente nomination
Charitable endeavors have Rays first baseman up for honor
By Brittany Ghiroli / MLB.com
While Rays manager Joe Maddon often praises Pena's high level of play, the first baseman exhibits the same gusto in helping his community and is a dedicated supporter and active participant in the Rays Baseball Foundation and Big Brothers Big Sisters charities. For his efforts, Pena is a nominee for this year's Roberto Clemente Award, presented by Chevrolet.
The award, which went to the Astros' Craig Biggio last year, recognizes the player who best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and the individual's contribution to his team. It is named in honor of the former Pirates outfielder whose spirit and goodwill will always be remembered. Clemente died in a plane crash while attempting to transport relief supplies to earthquake-stricken Nicaragua on Dec. 31, 1972.
This year, Pena was one of four Tampa Bay-area professional athletes selected to be a spokesman for the Sports Buddies program of Big Brothers Big Sisters. The purpose of the Sports Buddies program is to encourage young male adults to become mentors to young boys in the area by taking them to sporting events and participating in sports with them.
"That little bit of guidance -- just because you gave that little bit of time now -- can be huge in one life," Pena said.
The first baseman was approached by the program this year and immediately agreed that it was a "great idea." In this role, Pena was featured on a PSA for Sports Buddies that is played regularly through the local cable outlet. He has hosted a group of Big/Little matches at a game and gave them kids during a "play catch" session on field. Pena will host another group of Big/Little matches at an event planned during the offseason.
"If you focus your mind on something that's positive or healthy like sports, any extracurricular activities -- positive ones -- it gets [kids] thinking about the right things," Pena said.
Pena is also an active member in the Rays Baseball Foundation, which is committed to assisting youth and education programs throughout the Tampa Bay area. He has participated in the organization's annual golf tournament, fashion show and broadcast auctions.
But Pena's influence extends far beyond the Sunshine State's limits, as the Dominican Republic-born player also finds time to give back to his home country. Through the Foundacion Lumen 2000 in the Dominican, Pena helps get school supplies, sports equipment and medicine to underprivileged kids.
And while Pena shies away from receiving accolades for his selflessness, last year's American League Silver Slugger Award winner sees a silver lining in his Clemente Award nomination.
"Maybe it encourages others to offer up their time as well," Pena said. "So, it's really cool. It's like a chain reaction; if I do it, maybe somebody else will get inspired and wants to help, and then someone else wants to help. Next thing you know, you have a whole community willing to help ... and that's obviously what we want."
Fans can participate in the selection process of the overall winner of the award now through Oct. 5. The fan ballot winner will be tallied as one vote among those cast by a special selection panel of baseball dignitaries and media members. The panel includes MLB Commissioner Bud Selig and Vera Clemente, widow of the Pirates' Hall of Fame right fielder whose spirit and goodwill always will be remembered. The winner will be announced during the World Series.
Brittany Ghiroli is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.