(Photo by Jordan Megenhardt/Arizona Diamondbacks)
By Greg Dillard
Roberto Clemente was truly one of a kind.
When the Pittsburgh Pirates’ great wasn’t starring on the field in the Steel City, he was donating his time and resources toward countless philanthropic outlets.
Clemente’s life and standout baseball career were cut short on Dec. 31, 1972, when he was killed in a plane crash while on his way to help earthquake victims in his native country of Nicaragua.
“He was a giving person not only on the field but off it,” former D-backs outfielder Luis Gonzalez said. “I think he’s a good guy for any player to really mold themselves after, just with his work ethic. He cared about giving back and making a difference in the community and to help other people with the resources that he had.”
Prior to his death, the Hall of Fame outfielder was named the honorary chairman of the earthquake relief committee. His group worked tirelessly to raise $150,000 for relief as well as food and other necessary supplies.
Nearly 50 years after his death, Clemente’s giving and unique personality has not been forgotten.
“He was a wonderful human being,” Hall of Famer Ernie Banks said. “I was very fortunate one year to go down to Puerto Rico. They were playing a game and he found out I was there. I didn’t know he knew I was coming. He invited me to his house and roasted a pig. We chatted and talked about baseball. He introduced me to his family. I became like a member of his family down there. It was wonderful. I really enjoyed Roberto, and I miss him. He was a wonderful player, a great athlete and a fine human being.”
Although he died at a young age of 38, Clemente’s legacy lives on to this day. Every year, Major League baseball awards the prestigious Roberto Clemente Award, where a player from each of the 30 big league teams is nominated based on their work in the community, both on and off the diamond.
D-backs left-hander Joe Saunders was recently selected as his team’s nomination for the Clemente Award. Since arriving in Arizona, he and his wife Shanel have made a strong impact in the community.
“We are extremely proud of the efforts Joe and his wife have made in making our community a better place for children,” D-backs President & CEO Derrick Hall said. “The time and effort they have spent to provide the necessary supplies for underprivileged children will inevitably leave a lasting impact. His commitment on and off the baseball field has made a tremendous effect around the community and we are delighted that Joe represents our organization as a nominee for this prestigious award.”
The Saunders founded “Team Saundo” in 2009 and launched the “Team Saundo Backpack Program” in 2001. “Team Saundo” gives people who are battling life threatening illnesses a chance to come out to the ballpark and enjoy a baseball game. Saunders not only buys tickets for the individuals, but meets the group before the game.
The backpack initiative provides underprivileged children with school supplies and other needs for the school year. The program purchased 2,000 backpacks and collected $3,500 worth of donations through the June 5 school supply drive at Chase Field.
Additionally, Saunders makes it a point to contribute to other organizations such as the Baseball Assistance Team and the East Valley Women’s League.
”I am extremely honored to be among a fine group of nominees for this prestigious award,” Saunders said. “My wife, Shanel, and I are committed to giving back to the community through Team Saundo and are fortunate to be in the position to make a significant impact on very deserving individuals.”
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