Sharlee loves to joke about her brother and vice versa, and together they and their parents were all together in a room at Yankee Stadium on Thursday night for a magical moment in their family's history. Jeter broke away from his preparations for the ensuing World Series Game 2 because he was the 2009 recipient of the Robert Clemente Award presented by Chevy.
Bestowed annually since 1971, the award recognizes the Major League Baseball player who combines a dedication to giving back to the community with outstanding skills on the baseball field. In 1973, the award was named in honor of Clemente, who died in a plane crash on Dec. 31, 1972, while on a humanitarian mission to assist earthquake victims in Nicaragua.
"Hi, Momma," Jeter said as he entered the big interview room and saw his mother, Dorothy, sitting there in the front row between his father, Charles, and Sharlee. Also at the head table were Commissioner Bud Selig; Vera Clemente, Roberto's widow and MLB's newly appointed Goodwill Ambassador; Dan Adamcheck, regional sales and marketing manager for Chevrolet; and emcee Bob Costas. It was the same setting where Jeter has appeared for postseason interviews, and highly unusual to have this annual award go to someone who is right in the thick of World Series action -- and in his own ballpark.
"Obviously, we're very excited we're in the World Series, but it's nice to get an opportunity to focus on something that really has to do with something more than baseball," Jeter said in accepting the award. "It has to do with community work and giving back to the community. I think people in our position should take advantage of it. They should try to give back as much as possible. I know I'm being awarded for this right now, but there's a lot of players that give back to the community, and I think everyone should be commended for that."
The presentation in that interview room and then on the field before Thursday night's first pitch is part of MLB's overall "Going Beyond" campaign that attaches a theme of community service or charity involvement to the first four games of the 105th Fall Classic. Game 1 was Welcome Back Veterans; Game 2 highlights the Roberto Clemente Award and Community Service/Volunteerism; Game 3 is Stand Up To Cancer; and Game 4 is Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI).
Jeter, 35, was selected from a list of 30 nominees, one from each Major League club, by a panel that included Selig and Vera Clemente. Fans also were able to vote at MLB.com for one of the 30 nominees. The winner of the fan vote was tallied as one vote among those cast by the selection panel.
"Major League Baseball is proud to honor Derek Jeter for the lasting impact the Turn 2 Foundation has made on youth in communities across the country," Selig said, referring to the charitable organization Jeter started in 1996. "In a year of career milestones for Derek, receiving the Roberto Clemente Award will inspire future generations of ballplayers and fans to give back to those in need. I would also like to thank Chevy for their continued support in honoring Roberto Clemente's legacy and spirit."
Selig told Jeter: "You're a wonderful role model not only for the youth of America but also for our players. You have been the face of baseball for many years, and you're truly deserving of this award. I don't want to embarrass Derek, but a player like Derek Jeter, it makes me very proud to be the Commissioner of baseball."
For Jeter, winning the award was another highlight in a special season, one in which he set the Yankees' all-time hits record and led his team back to the ultimate stage.
"This is a very special day for everyone involved with the Turn 2 Foundation," Jeter said. "Thank you to everyone at Major League Baseball, Chevy, and especially the Clemente family for this recognition. The Steinbrenner family and the Yankees organization have supported my work in the community my entire career, and I am very grateful for their encouragement. It is truly an honor to be mentioned alongside Roberto Clemente and the others who have won this award over the years."
Jeter is the third Yankees player to win the award, and the first in nearly a quarter century. The others were Ron Guidry and Don Baylor back-to-back in 1984-85. Jeter joins a distinguished group of winners that includes 13 Hall of Famers, such as Willie Mays (the first winner in 1971), Brooks Robinson, Al Kaline, Willie Stargell, Lou Brock, Rod Carew, Phil Niekro, Ozzie Smith and Kirby Puckett.
Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols was last year's winner, and he said at the presentation that it was the most important individual honor he had received.
In 1996, Jeter turned a lifelong dream into reality when he established the Turn 2 Foundation to give back to the various communities that are a part of his life, including Western Michigan (he is from Kalamazoo); Tampa, Fla.; and New York. Since its launch, the Turn 2 Foundation has awarded more than $10 million in grants to create and support signature programs and activities that motivate young people to turn away from drugs and alcohol and "TURN 2" healthy lifestyles. Through these ventures, the Foundation strives to create outlets that promote academic excellence, leadership development and positive behavior.
Charles Jeter said his son was merely following the lead of one of the people he had looked up to the most: Hall of Famer Dave Winfield.
"Derek is a big fan of Winfield," Charles said. "He wanted to do that. He said when he got to the big leagues he wanted to start a foundation, and he did that in 1996. We started it back then when we didn't even know how long he'd be in the league. It was just a thing to give back to the community.
"I'm very proud of him. I'm even prouder that he has been involved with it for all this time. The seriousness, the commitment. This is a great award and it shows he's been recognized for something he feels is important.
"He's very happy."
Turn 2 is managed on a day-to-day basis by the Jeter family with Derek in a hands-on role. In addition to contributing his own funds, he hosts the annual Derek Jeter Celebrity Golf Classic and the Turn 2 Foundation Dinner to raise funds needed to continue programs such as Jeter's Leaders, Turn 2 Us Healthy Lifestyles, Turn 2 After School, Turn 2 Baseball Clinics, Proud to Be Me, Turn 2 Smart Moves, Holiday Express and the Turn 2 Endowed Scholarships.
The Turn 2 Foundation recently donated $500,000 to launch the Derek Jeter Academy at Phoenix House in Tampa, an outpatient counseling center for troubled teens combining individual and family substance-abuse treatment.
Jeter said in the presentation ceremony that people should see Sharlee with any questions about the foundation because "my sister is now running it."
Sharlee was approached about that and she deadpanned: "You don't believe that, do you? The minute an important decision comes up, he will tell me.
"He's really involved. He is the boss."
Sharlee said their parents brought them up to be givers.
"If you have more than you need, share it with someone else," she said. "They just raised us on, 'If you have a little, give a little. If you have a lot, give a lot.' We feel blessed that Derek is in the position he is in to do these things. He had a game plan and he did it. You know how much respect he has for this game. To get this award, he's just doing what he was raised to do."
Jeter, one of few bright spots for the Yankees in Game 1 of the World Series with his three hits off Phillies winning pitcher Cliff Lee, is well on his way now to joining the select list of players who won the Clemente Award and then made the Hall of Fame.
Jeter finished the regular season with 2,747 career hits, and he provided one of the most moving moments of the entire year in baseball when he tied and then passed Lou Gehrig for the most hits in franchise history.
How he has lived his life on the field is how he has lived it off the field: free of the headline controversies that hover over so many other superstars, always an inspiration.
"My heartfelt congratulations to Derek Jeter, who truly embodies the purpose and spirit of the Roberto Clemente Award," Vera Clemente said. "I also wish to thank all of this year's award nominees, Major League Baseball, Chevy and other members of our global baseball family for their tireless efforts. They exemplify the importance of community service and the profound impact that baseball continues to have in making the world a better place."
MLB also announced at the presentation that Vera Clemente has been named a goodwill ambassador for MLB. In this capacity, she will serve as a spokesperson to fans around the world to promote the importance of courage and character, the values displayed by her late husband.
"We are honored to welcome Vera Clemente as an ambassador for Major League Baseball," Selig said. "In addition to reaching out to the Latin American and Caribbean communities, our goal is that Vera, through her words and actions, will serve as a beacon for fans around the world to join baseball in our commitment to providing for the under-served. It was Roberto's generosity that inspired generations to give back, and we are proud to continue that today."
Clemente will help promote baseball within the U.S. and around the world, with an emphasis on Latin America and the Caribbean. In the U.S., she will help further the development of MLB initiatives and provide a forum for fans in Latin American and Caribbean communities. She also will help raise awareness of MLB and its role in the community beyond baseball and encourage worldwide participation in MLB community initiatives.
"I've always been working not only in Puerto Rico but different countries, with youngsters, baseball leagues, all the ages, and schools, students, and I do the things Roberto always did with the kids, and in different countries, too," Clemente said. "This opportunity will be good for me, you know, to keep working hard with this new era to provide more advice for the children to be better, and when they have the ability, for example, in baseball or any other sport, for them to be a star. Derek Jeter is a good example of that."