MINNEAPOLIS — When Nelson Cruz re-signed with the Twins in February, the team was coming off of back-to-back division championships, and the veteran slugger spoke highly of the Twins’ chances to win the World Series.
Cruz, who played in two World Series with the Texas Rangers previously, did wind up making it back to the Fall Classic this October — just not in the way he envisioned. Not with the Twins, which was his hope originally, and not with his new team, the Tampa Bay Rays, who had the American League’s best record in the regular season but were ousted in the ALDS.
No, Cruz made it back to the World Series as the 2021 winner of the prestigious Roberto Clemente Award, given to the player who “best represents the game of baseball through extraordinary character, community involvement, philanthropy and positive contributions, both on and off the field.”
Cruz is set to receive his Roberto Clemente Award trophy during the pregame ceremonies ahead of Game 2 of the World Series between the Astros and Braves on Wednesday in Houston.
“It’s just a privilege and an honor,” Cruz said. “Like I said in the past, we put a lot of work into the community never thinking to be really recognized. Most players do because we think it’s the right thing to do, but it’s always nice to be recognized and especially since this is the highest award you can get as a baseball player. (It’s) something that I’m really proud of.”
Cruz, who was honored with the Muhammad Ali Sports Humanitarian Award in 2020 as part of the ESPYs, was named the Twins’ Roberto Clemente Award nominee even after being traded, honored for his philanthropic efforts both in the Dominican Republic and in the Twin Cities.
Cruz has worked tirelessly to help those in his hometown of Las Matas de Santa Cruz over the years. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Cruz has helped feed and provide financial support to nearly 1,200 families that have been affected.
He has donated a fire truck, ambulance and firefighter uniforms to first responders in his hometown, and every year he brings in dentists and optometrists to see and help patients in town.
Currently, he is working on building an education and technical center in Las Matas de Santa Cruz, which will serve as a place where young athletes can complete their high school degrees and learn new technical skills. Once that project gets off the ground, the hope is to then build more around the country.
“It’s been two incredible years from Muhammad Ali to Roberto Clemente. It’s just been a blessing and pushed me to work harder for my community and for the things that I believe, that I can help others to have a better life,” Cruz said.
Cruz previously was nominated twice (2018, 2020) for the Roberto Clemente Award, named for the hall of famer who died in a plane crash while delivering aid to Nicaragua following an earthquake in 1972. He becomes the fourth Twins player to win the award, joining a trio of hall of famers: Rod Carew (1977), Dave Winfield (1994) and Kirby Puckett (1997).
He was selected for the award by a panel that included Commissioner Rob Manfred, Clemente’s children, former players, journalists and a fan vote.
“It seems like every year, our goal is to reach more people and help more people,” Cruz said. “… We’re going to keep building on what we’ve been doing the last few years.”