The award recognizes the player who best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and the individual's contribution to his team. It is named in honor of the former Pirates outfielder, whose spirit and goodwill will always be remembered. Clemente died in a plane crash while attempting to transport relief supplies to earthquake-stricken Nicaragua on Dec. 31, 1972.
When it comes to baseball accomplishments, Youkilis shies away from taking credit. He would rather talk about his team. But charity is something different entirely. Youkilis knows how vital it is to be front and center, and how his position as a popular player for a fabled team gives him the power to brighten the outlook of an underprivileged or sick child.
"For us, it's pretty easy for us players to do that," said Youkilis. "There's probably a lot more of us who could lend a helping hand, and a lot of guys do a lot of great stuff here in Boston. I always say, you can always do a little bit more at times.
"We're very privileged to be here in a great town where they support charitable work. It's great, and I think the Roberto Clemente Award is all about that, giving back to your community. Roberto Clemente did a great job on the field, but he did an even better job off the field trying to help people. That's one of the proud things that I love to do -- helping the kids all over. It doesn't matter if it's here or anywhere in the country or in the world. If you can help them out in some way, it's a good thing."
Though Youkilis had charitable inclinations from almost the minute he arrived in the Major Leagues in 2004, he took it to another level in August 2007, when he founded "Kevin Youkilis Hits for Kids" along with his wife, Enza.
The charity's mission, according to a bio provided by the Red Sox, is the following:
"Hits for Kids works to rally individual and corporate support for grassroots organizations that focus on the health and well-being of children throughout the greater Boston area. The mission of the organization is to make a positive difference in a child's life by channeling the time, energy, passion and financial support of the greater community; to identify and provide philanthropic assistance to charitable groups that have a clear need for outside support and that devote their resources to the well being of children; and to fund programs which provide medical assistance, medical research, education, community service and advocacy for children's needs."
Youkilis doesn't just have handlers run his charity. He is heavily involved in the entire process.
"Our charity has done a great job of supporting local groups and trying to do as much as we can to fund some programs that are underfunded," said Youkilis. "Giving back -- that's the key, I think, to being a professional athlete. There's a lot of stuff you can do by just taking a little bit of time to help some causes and create awareness in the community."
What is the feeling like for Youkilis when he perks up a child?
"It's better than coming to the ballpark, a lot of times, and winning ballgames," said Youkilis. "You win the heart and mind of a child over just a short period of time, I think that's better than winning a ballgame. It's a perspective in life that you have to have is that you're doing a lot more than winning a game. Winning here is a great thing, but when you can win the hearts of kids and see the difference you're making in a child's life and maybe helping him grow up to be a great person in life or do something great, that's a lot better feeling then what we do in our jobs here."
Fans can participate in the selection process of the overall winner of the award now through Oct. 4. The fan ballot winner will be tallied as one vote among those cast by a special selection panel of baseball dignitaries and media members. The panel includes MLB Commissioner Bud Selig and Vera Clemente, widow of the Pirates' Hall of Fame right fielder whose spirit and goodwill always will be remembered. The winner will be announced during the World Series.
Voting fans also will be automatically registered for a chance to win a trip to the 2009 World Series, where the national winner of the Roberto Clemente Award presented by Chevy will be announced.