They were inside the interview room Thursday at AT&T Park, where Wakefield was given this prestigious annual honor before Game 2 of the 106th World Series. Major League Baseball highlighted Stand Up To Cancer as its dedicated initiative surrounding Game 1, part of a campaign over the first four games to bring attention to important causes. Game 2 is Public Service and the Roberto Clemente Award. Game 3 will be about Youth, highlighting Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) presented by KPMG and Boys & Girls Clubs of America. Game 4 will salute and help Welcome Back Veterans.
Wakefield was selected from a list of 30 nominees, one from each Major League club, by a panel of dignitaries that included Commissioner Bud Selig and Vera Clemente, MLB Goodwill Ambassador and widow of the Hall of Famer. Additionally, fans were able to log on to Chevy.com/clemente, which was powered by MLB.com and created specifically for the Roberto Clemente Award platform, and cast a vote for one of the 30 nominees. The winner of the fan vote was tallied as one vote among those cast by the selection panel.
The award is named for the 12-time All-Star who died in a plane crash on New Year's Eve 1972 while attempting to deliver supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua. It pays tribute to Clemente's achievements and character by recognizing talented current players who truly understand the value of helping others.
"I feel very blessed," said Wakefield, 44. "There were 29 other guys who were nominees for the Roberto Clemente Award, but there are also hundreds and hundreds of other guys who do a lot of work for each club. I know with our club in Boston, there are 24 other guys who do a lot of charity work. So I feel very honored not only to be nominated, but to win the award. I will definitely honor this award very proudly.
"You've probably heard me say this 1,000 times: It really doesn't matter what you do on the field. What matters most is making a difference in someone else's life. Roberto was a class act when it came to that. This is the ultimate. This is the highest. This has nothing to do with baseball. It has nothing to do with your statistics or anything. It has to do with your character. You guys who know me in Boston, I take a lot of pride in my character. This is an award for character, which ultimately is the highest accomplishment I can attain, or the highest compliment you can get from somebody. I'm very honored and humbled at the same time to accept this award."
Wakefield has helped those in need in both Boston and his home of Melbourne, Fla. Since 2004, the knuckleballer has been affiliated with Pitching in for Kids, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing specifically earmarked grants designed to improve the lives of children across the New England region. The program encourages kids to participate in special events and to learn crucial life skills.
Each year, Wakefield is at or near the top of the list in community appearances by Red Sox players. Before every Tuesday home game, he runs the Wakefield Warriors program, in which he invites children from the Franciscan Hospital and the Jimmy Fund to visit with him and watch batting practice. That program has been going on since 1998. Wakefield helped Franciscan Hospital raise $700,000 at a fund-raising gala, and in 2009, the hospital thanked him by renaming its refurbished baseball field the Tim "Wake" Field. Each year, Wakefield participates in the Jimmy Fund Radio-Telethon, which last year raised $4.5 million.
In Melbourne, Wakefield is dedicated to the Space Coast Early Intervention Center. The center is a non-profit therapeutic preschool program for children with special needs as well as typically developing children. Wakefield essentially saved the center from going out of business in 1992 and has supported the program since.
Wakefield succeeds a Yankees player, Derek Jeter, who was last year's Clemente honoree.
"When I looked at all 30 recipients, and knowing about Tim's work in Boston, it was an easy vote," Selig said during the presentation. "While Tim has put together a wonderful career on the field, his efforts off the field have had a lasting impact on the lives of young people, particularly in New England and Melbourne, Fla. We are proud to honor him with this prestigious award."
"I congratulate Tim Wakefield and welcome him to the Roberto Clemente Award presented by Chevrolet family," said Vera Clemente. "For many years, I have learned of his contributions in improving the lives of children across the New England region and his hometown Melbourne, Fla. Roberto would be very proud to have Tim on his team of great humanitarians making a positive impact in the life of many youngsters."
Wakefield's Major League career started with the Pirates in 1992-93, and he has pitched for the Red Sox since 1995. Winning this award made him reflect back on those days working his way up to The Show with Pittsburgh, because Clemente had all of his 3,000 hits with the Pirates, and his legend looms large over the organization and city.
"Coming up with the Pirate organization, I got to witness firsthand what his legacy really meant," Wakefield said. "He was obviously one of the greatest Pirates ever to put the uniform on. So you knew not only his on-field contributions as a Pittsburgh Pirate, but you knew about his off-field contributions as well. It wasn't something that was harped upon by veteran players -- you knew it. You knew who Roberto Clemente was -- what he meant, the ultimate sacrifice he gave for everything that he did off the field. Not only was he a first-ballot Hall of Famer and one of the greatest players ever to play the game, but for what he did off the field, it really epitomizes what I think athletes and people should be like."
Wakefield joins a distinguished list of national Roberto Clemente Award recipients, including 13 members of the Hall of Fame. Willie Mays won the first one in 1971, a point Commissioner Selig noted during the presentation.
"Roberto Clemente was a shining example for all of baseball with his humanitarian efforts in how he carried himself on and off the field of baseball," Selig said. "It's appropriate that we're here in San Francisco for this press conference, since the first recipient of this award was the great Willie Mays. ... We can now add Tim Wakefield to that distinguished list."