HOUSTON -- Nelson Cruz has been given Major League Baseball's Roberto Clemente Award for character, community involvement and philanthropy.
Cruz, the 50th winner of the honor, received the award before World Series Game 2 on Wednesday night.
"Growing up as a Latin, you always heard about Roberto Clemente,'' he said. "I never had a chance to see him play. I knew what a great player he was. Once I came to the States I found out, oh, he's not only a good player, he's a great human being."
The 41-year-old Cruz, a 17-year MLB veteran and seven-time All-Star, provided financial support to 1,200 families in his hometown of Las Matas de Santa Cruz, Dominican Republic, during the COVID-19 pandemic, helping feed 700 families.
After a fire destroyed the home of a childhood friend, Cruz provided the town with a fire engine, 80 firefighter uniforms and an ambulance for transportation for people to the nearest hospital, which is about an hour away.
His Boomstick23 Foundation began construction of an education and technical center last year and he will stock the center with computers to assist athletes in their education.
Cruz also organizes dentists and optometrists to go the town's clinic for checkups, medicine and eyewear, and 500 patients received dental services last year.
He helped arrange for MLB, the Major League Baseball Players Association and the union's Players Trust to donate $400,000 to the Dominican Republic for medical equipment and food aid during the pandemic.
"We first started with the dental clinic, and the next year we started asking how we can do the mental [health] and the eye doctors," he said. "We started doing everything all at the same time. We even went to schools and provided kids with all the books and stuff that they need.''
Cruz was nominated by the Twins, who traded him to the Tampa Bay Rays in July. He joined Hall of Famers Rod Carew (1977), Dave Winfield (1994) and Kirby Puckett (1997) as Minnesota players to win the award.