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09/02/08 9:36 PM ET

Youk a role model off the field and on

First baseman's charity work earns him Clemente nomination

BOSTON -- Unlike former basketball star Charles Barkley, who once famously said that athletes shouldn't be role models, Red Sox first baseman Kevin Youkilis thinks they can and should be. But Youkilis makes it clear that the act of being someone that a child can look up to occurs off the playing field, not on it.

That type of attitude explains why Youkilis has been selected as the Red Sox's nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award, presented by Chevrolet.


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.

Youkilis became interested in community endeavors almost from the moment he was first promoted to the Red Sox in 2004. Five years later, he has established himself as a force both in the lineup and where it matters most -- for kids in need of help.

For quite a while, Youkilis had visions of starting his own charity. And thanks to his fiancee, Enza Sambataro, volunteering to run it, the Kevin Youkilis Hits for Kids charity was established in September 2007. In the first year, the charity raised roughly $600,000.

"It's definitely a cool honor to be nominated for something related to community service," said Youkilis. "We've done a lot of great things with our charity this year and we're excited just to be doing a lot more great things out there in the community. I think that's one of the big reasons, just with the charity doing so well this year and having great success. That award is great because you're doing stuff for the community and doing stuff off the field. On the field, you give a lot of people joy, but off the field, you can do a lot more for people that are in need of help."

The more work Youkilis does in the community, he gains an understanding of just how much unfinished business there's left to do in this area.

"With kids, there's a lot of needs out there," said Youkilis. "They look at a lot of us as role models. I don't see ourselves as role models when we're athletes on the field. I think we're more role models off the field. That's what you've got to do."

Aside from the money Hits for Kids has raised, some of the most joy Youkilis gets is just being able to light up the face of a young boy or girl.

"To be a role model, you've just got to help these kids bring a smile to their face on a day they could be down and sick in the hospital or little things you can do for them," Youkilis said. "You can bring joy to them by hitting home runs or winning ballgames. But a lot of times if you're just there up close and personal, they'll never forget that. That's what I've always loved. Just seeing those kids' faces when you walk into a room and they're so excited to see you."

Fans can participate in the selection process of the overall winner of the Clemente Award now through Oct. 5. 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.

"Since being called up in 2004, Kevin has been among the leaders in number of appearances made on behalf of the club," said Sarah Stevenson, manager of community/player relations for the Red Sox. "He genuinely cares and understands how much it means to the kids. His generosity doesn't end when the season ends either. He continues to bring smiles to children's faces during the offseason as well."

Youkilis hopes the Red Sox are still playing then, just as they were a year ago. But if not, he'll likely have plenty of off-field endeavors to keep him busy.

"Around the holidays is the best time [for community work]," Youkilis said. "Halloween and Thanksgiving and other stuff when they can't be home. To go in there and see them, it brings them joy."

Hits for Kids presented checks to Christopher's Haven, Italian Home for Children and Joslin Diabetes Center's Pediatric Health Services totaling $250,000 following a recent home game.

In addition to what Youkilis does for his own charity, he continues to be one of the team leaders in making appearances on behalf of the Red Sox, including visits to the cancer-fighting Jimmy Fund.

The Clemente nomination isn't the first time Youkilis has been noticed for his tireless work in the community. In 2007, he was named the BoSox Club's Man of the Year for his contributions to the community. He was also selected as the 2007 recipient of the Jackie Jensen Award for spirit and determination by the Boston Baseball Writers Association of America. On June 9, Youkilis was honored with the Good Sports "Good Sport in Sport" Award.

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.