McCutchen carries on Clemente's legacy

McCutchen carries on Clemente's legacy

PITTSBURGH -- Andrew McCutchen has played in Pittsburgh long enough to hear hundreds of stories about Roberto Clemente. They rarely have anything to do with the Pirates icon's incredible ability or his Hall of Fame career. Those who knew or met Clemente want to talk about his kindness and giving spirit.

"Every time you mention Clemente to them, they get emotional or their eyes light up," McCutchen said. "They always have a story about what he did for them."

The stories stick with McCutchen, because he wants to be remembered the same way. Baseball has given him a lot in life, and he strives to make a difference by giving back. That's why there are already plenty of stories to be told about what McCutchen has done for others.

"I think in this world today, we need heroes. And he is absolutely one," said Chris Gessner, the president of the Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC. "Not only is he a fantastic player, but he's an even better person."

For that reason, McCutchen received this year's Roberto Clemente Award, given annually to the player who best exemplifies Clemente on and off the field. 

McCutchen wins Clemente Award

McCutchen has also been working with the Make-A-Wish Foundation since 2012, according to Dana Antkowiak, the marketing and communications manager for Make-A-Wish Greater Pennsylvania and West Virginia. During that time, he has visited 11 children with life-threatening medical conditions.

In Spring Training, McCutchen spent a whole day with Owen Taylor, a 7-year-old boy from Everett, Pa., who has a heart condition. In August at PNC Park, McCutchen hosted Cameron Pittman, a 12-year-old from Altoona, Pa., who is battling Hodgkin's lymphoma.

"He has this uncanny ability to very quickly put the child at ease. Very engaged in conversation, asks questions about their interests and their experiences. It's really remarkable," Antkowiak said. "In letters and notes we receive after the wish, these families are profoundly impacted by their experience with him."

The same can be said at the Children's Hospital, where Gessner and the entire staff were particularly pleased to see McCutchen win the Clemente Award.

McCutchen began visiting the hospital shortly after he was called up to the Majors. He and his wife, Maria, have remained a regular presence there, and Gessner said they are generous donors to the Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh Foundation.

"They are a wonderful team," Gessner said. "They do this because they care."

Before Halloween, McCutchen supplied the hospital with 200 costumes, giving the children there a chance to trick or treat away from home. Earlier this year, the Children's Hospital held an open art studio. McCutchen took part in the event, drawing and painting with the patients and their families.

One of the children, Matt Graeber, quickly developed a strong bond with McCutchen. A few weeks ago, McCutchen received a letter and a signed baseball from Matt. When he got out of the hospital and started playing baseball again, he hit three homers in two games and sent the first home run ball to McCutchen.

"Those are the kinds of things where he just has a dramatic impact," Gessner said. "He just lights up the room. He's just got a contagious enthusiasm. Our parents and patients just love it when he comes, as does our staff. I hear about it, because there's a buzz in the hospital."

Yet Gessner has never actually met McCutchen. It's a testament to the manner in which McCutchen prefers to give back, Gessner said -- not for the attention, but for the patients and their families.

"He's doing this out of the goodness of his heart," Gessner said. "He does it very quietly, and he wants it that way."

McCutchen also wants people to remember him for it. His father, Lorenzo, often asks him what people will see one day when they look at his tombstone. Will the words describe his baseball career, or what he did for other people?

"That's really all that matters, that you're doing your job and helping people and helping those who can't help themselves," McCutchen said.

That's why McCutchen took more pride in receiving the 2015 Clemente Award than the 2013 National League MVP. He is clearly driven to succeed on the field, but he is equally determined to define his legacy in the community.

"For all the right reasons," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "To continue to push to be like Clemente."

Adam Berry is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.