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Wakefield calls Clemente Award greatest honor of his career

10.28.10 at 8:25 pm ET

Tim Wakefield came up in the Pirates organization, and so he understands what Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente stands for. The Pirates great not only was one of the best players of his baseball generation, a man who won an MVP Award, collected exactly 3,000 hits and was named a 12-time Gold Glove winner and All-Star.

He was — more strikingly to Wakefield — also a great humanitarian, a notion embodied by the fact that, after the 1972 season, he died in a plane crash while trying to deliver relief supplies to Nicaragua following a devastating earthquake.

“You knew not only his on-the-field contributions as a Pittsburgh Pirate, but you knew about his off-the-field contributions, as well,” Wakefield told reporters in San Francisco, prior to Game 2 of the World Series, on Thursday. “You knew who Roberto Clemente was and what he meant, the ultimate sacrifice that he paid for everything that he did off the field. Not only was he a first-ballot Hall of Famer and one of the greatest players to ever play the game, but for what he did off the field, really epitomizes what I think athletes and people should be like, because I’ve said this story 100 — you’ve probably heard me say it 1,000 times, it doesn’t really matter what you do on the field, what matters most is making a difference in somebody else’s life, and Roberto was a class act when it came to that.”

And so, for Wakefield, the honor of being named the 2010 recipient of the Roberto Clemente Award was tremendous. The award recognized Wakefield’s long history of community service. Major League Baseball cited his “Wakefield Warriors” program, in which he brings children from the Franciscan Hospital to Fenway Park every Tuesday, his involvement to “Pitching in for Kids,” a non-profit that provides grants across New England, and the Space Coast Early Intervention Center (SCEIC) in his hometown of Melbourne, Fla., a therapeutic pre-school program for children with special needs, as activities that led to his recognition after being nominated for the award numerous times.

Wakefield has a pair of World Series rings. He has been named (in 2009) to an All-Star team. He has nearly 200 career victories, and ranks third in Red Sox team history in wins (179) and tops the franchise leaderboard in several other categories.

Yet amidst all the accolades and accomplishments in his career, Wakefield made no secret of how he regarded the Clemente Award given his belief that a player’s off-field conduct is even more important than what he does on the diamond.

“This is the ultimate. This is the highest [honor],” said Wakefield. “I said earlier to some other people, this has nothing to do with baseball. I mean, it has nothing to do with your statistics or anything, it has to do with your character. You guys know me in Boston, I take a lot of pride in my character. This award ultimately is the highest accomplishment I think you can attain or the highest compliment that you can get from somebody, and I’m very honored and humbled at the same time to accept this award.”

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