Clemente nominee Baker pens open letter
Catcher has given time to help veterans, Haitian earthquake victims
MIAMI -- Being nominated for a prestigious award is serious business to Marlins catcher John Baker.
The 29-year-old recently underwent Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. But the injury setback isn't slowing him down from being active off the field.
His arm troubles limited him to just 23 games before he was placed on the disabled list in May. A constant all year has been Baker's desire to make a difference.
For his humanitarian efforts this year, Baker has been selected as the Marlins' nominee for the 2010 Roberto Clemente Award presented by Chevrolet.
Baker is taking the nomination seriously, and he has written an open letter to fans, urging their support.
Fans will once again have the opportunity to participate in the selection of the national winner. They can cast votes for any of the 30 club nominees through Oct. 8.
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 Commissioner Bud Selig and Vera Clemente, widow of the Hall of Fame right fielder.
Voting fans also will be automatically registered for a chance to win a trip for four to the 2010 World Series to see the national winner presented with the Roberto Clemente Award.
All 30 nominees have immersed themselves in the type of humanitarian and community efforts that distinguished the life of Clemente, a life that ended at age 38 on New Year's Eve 1972 with the crash of a plane aboard which he was personally delivering aid to Nicaraguan earthquake victims.
Here is Baker's letter:
"I want to start by saying that I am incredibly honored to be mentioned in the same sentence as the great Roberto Clemente. I wear the number 21 proudly in his honor.
"No matter where I've been, people of all faiths and walks of life have told me that things, both good and bad, happen for a reason. In January of 2010, the Florida Marlins gave me the opportunity to visit the men and women of our Armed Forces overseas in Kuwait and Iraq.
"I did some research and found out that despite the fact that we have Military veterans in our Hall of Fame in Cooperstown no active players had ever been to the Middle East to support troops. I learned right away that the service men and women did not care that I played Major League Baseball, they cared that I showed up in person to support them.
"The experience taught me that most of the time a person's most valuable philanthropic asset is their time and love. I also learned that although it is the athletes that receive all of the glory and praise for their abilities, it is the men and women of our Armed Forces that should be receiving the nightly standing ovations.
"While in Iraq, we slept in a bunker in order to protect us from mortar shells that occasionally are lobbed over the base walls with the intention of killing or wounding the sleeping soldiers. It was the first and only time in my adult life that I went to bed scared of the dark. I made a commitment when I got home to do the best I could to support veterans in our community.
"It was then when I was first introduced to Standown House and Roy Foster. First, during Spring Training I spent some time with the men and women there and knew immediately that I would do whatever I could to both promote and help their noble cause: To make sure that no military veteran in South Florida is ever left behind.
"On May 15, I was placed on the disabled list with a nagging injury to my right elbow. At the time I thought I would be back with team in a matter of weeks, little did I know that I would miss the rest of the year. Part of my recovery process called for six weeks of complete rest. The rest period weighed heavily on my psyche. I love the game of baseball with all of my heart, and in nearly ten years of professional baseball I had never missed more than two or three games. I again received a phone call from the Marlins.
"They asked if I was interested in helping spearhead their Homes for Haiti campaign. The intention of the Homes for Haiti project is to build a Haitian village with 25 concrete family homes. Since I had a few more weeks of rest, I agreed and hopped on a plane with Food for the Poor bound for Port Au Prince.
"I wish I could say something positive here, but the truth is that the situation in Haiti is both bleak and heavily disturbing. I had no idea that Haiti was a mere hour and ten minute flight from Miami, closer by plane than any of our division rivals. Tents abound, rumors of government corruption run rampant, and many people there are homeless or starving.
"While the situation is bleak, the spirit of the people is strong. I met children that smiled and laughed despite recently losing their entire families. I learned immediately that no matter how bad one thinks their situation may be, someone very close is going through something much more difficult with a smile on their face. This lesson has helped me immensely as I recover from Tommy John surgery. Anytime the rehab seems too tough, or the injury too painful, I think back to the kids I met and their positive attitudes and I gain hope.
"Please take the time to vote for me for the Roberto Clemente Award, winning this award would garner national attention and funding for both Standown House and the Marlin's Homes for Haiti project. I am pushing as hard as I can to give back as much as I can, because these experiences have taught me so much. Sometimes as players we are so concerned with wins and losses that we forget to take a broader view of our surrounding community, I hope to never make that mistake again."
Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.