Gonzalez nabs Branch Rickey Award

Gonzalez honored with Branch Rickey Award

DENVER -- Arizona Diamondbacks outfielder Luis Gonzalez stayed quiet after Hurricane Katrina caused devastation in the Southeastern U.S., but don't confuse that with suffering in silence.

"I actually was on a road trip, so when I got home they were sending people to Houston, where I played for a long time, and they actually sent a bunch of the victims of Katrina to Phoenix," said Gonzalez, who played college baseball at the University of South Alabama in Mobile and was familiar with the areas affected. "I went down to the convention center, served food, spent a day over there, bought some televisions and PlayStation games for the kids.

"They'd just had a major tragedy and had nothing to do but sit in there and ponder that. I just wanted to do something small, minute. I'm a human being, too. I'm more than aware of what's going on in the world. I think a lot of athletes are special like that, they like to give back."

Gonzalez made his contribution without drawing notice.

"No TV cameras, no press, no public spotlight at all," Diamondbacks general partner Jeff Moorad noted. But such contributions were noted in a big way Saturday night, when Gonzalez was presented with the 14th annual Branch Rickey Award for humanitarian service at the Marriott Denver City Center.

Gonzalez has donated time and money to several organizations, such as Kids Going Gonzo for School, Arizona Quest for Kids, the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Phoenix Family Museum, Boys and Girls Clubs, Phoenix Children's Hospital, Sunshine Acres, Phoenix Fire Department and the Brain Injury Foundation. On top of that, Gonzalez and his wife, Christine, are parents of triplets. Also, in January 2003, President George W. Bush appointed Gonzalez to serve on the President's Council on Service and Civic Participation.

The award is a project of the Rotary Club of Denver, which also inducts the winner into its Humanitarian Hall of Fame. So prestigious is the award that Commissioner Bud Selig visited Denver to present Gonzalez with the bronze statue. The Branch Rickey Award program and awards banquet are benefits for Denver Kids, a program benefiting at-risk students in Denver Public Schools.

"It's one thing to be a great player, but it's another thing to be a great human being, and a great human being off the field," Selig said. "That's what Luis Gonzalez is. I'm proud to be the Commissioner of baseball when it has players like Luis Gonzalez."

Gonzalez is the third Diamondbacks representative to win the award. Pitcher Todd Stottlemyre won in 2000 and fellow pitcher Curt Schilling took it in 2001. In addition, longtime baseball executive Roland Hemond, who was associated with the Diamondbacks before returning to the Chicago White Sox, won it in 2003; and Brett Butler, now coaching in Arizona's Minor League system, took it as a player with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1996.

Manager Bob Melvin said Gonzalez helped establish the club's tradition of community service.

"Luis is an institution in Arizona and not only the face of our team but of our organization since he got here," Melvin said. "It has a lot to do with what he does on the field, being our MVP as a player, but also what he does off the field. If ever there was a giver, it's 'Gonzo.' He's out in the community all the time.

"And in his relationship with kids, you can see how he lights up. I just called him the other day and he's on a field trip with his kids. He's a guy that just loves to give back. We're fortunate to have a guy like that be the face of our organization."

Gonzalez is best-known for knocking a ninth-inning single to give the Diamondbacks the 2001 World Series title over the New York Yankees and being a four-time All-Star Game participant.

But Gonzalez might be better known as a player who personally puts effort into children's education.

In the Kids Going Gonzo for School program that he started six years ago, he rewards disadvantaged students for attending school, giving an effort and living by 'Gonzo's 20 Ground Rules,' and even speaks with teachers about the importance of the program.

Gonzalez also personally put his efforts and money behind another project, Luis Gonzalez Field in Tempe, Ariz. The Diamondbacks' foundation and APS (the public utility of Arizona) spearhead a project in which state-of-the-art Little League fields are named in honor of players. Gonzalez contributed $50,000.

"You do it because you want to make a difference," Gonzalez said. "You're going to play and put your numbers up, but when you're done there are going to be players that come right after you. Eventually, your name will go off into the past as far as being a baseball player. It's just the difference you make in the area that you play in."

Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.