Griffey nominated for Clemente Award

Griffey nominated for Clemente Award

CINCINNATI -- Several years and many home run swings ago, Reds center fielder Ken Griffey Jr. often was referred to as "The Kid."

Now, at age 36 with 562 career homers to his credit, the nickname isn't used quite so often anymore. But it could remain fitting for a more meaningful reason.

During his lengthy career, "The Kid" has helped literally thousands of kids through his many charitable causes.

That's why it wasn't very surprising that Griffey was named the Reds' nominee for the 2006 Roberto Clemente Award for community service. It's the fifth time he's been nominated for the award.

Since 1971, Major League Baseball has presented an award to recognize the player that best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and his contribution to his club.

After Clemente's tragic death in a plane crash trying to deliver relief supplies to an earthquake-stricken Nicaragua, the award was renamed in his honor in 1973 as a remembrance for his spirit and goodwill. A panel of baseball dignitaries, including widow Vera Clemente and Commissioner Bud Selig, annually select a winner.

Griffey is among 30 nominees for this year's award -- one from each club. Former Cincinnati first baseman Sean Casey was the club's 2005 nominee. Braves pitcher John Smoltz was honored as last season's recipient. This season's honoree will be announced during the World Series.

Sometimes quietly and preferably without fanfare, Griffey works with several charitable groups -- especially those that have a mantra for helping children.

Any child from the Make-A-Wish Foundation program can bear witness.

The Reds host Make-A-Wish kids at home games every Friday and are often surprised to see the club's highest profile player, Griffey, as their welcoming ambassador. Kids and their families are invited to the field and dugout to watch batting practice. Often, they come away with an armful of autographs and goodies but most importantly -- a one-of-a-kind experience.

"Ken, by far, is the player that is most involved in our Make-A-Wish visits," Reds community relations manager Lorrie Platt said. "Inevitably, Ken will find his way to the child and monopolize him or her for 30-40 minutes. They trade baseball stories. He gives clubhouse tours and makes sure the child gets to chew on the sunflowers seeds and gum in the dugout. The child walks away starry eyed and with a new best friend. He is a great host and makes a day at the ballpark very special. He truly has a soft spot for children."

Other groups that benefit from Griffey's help is the Reds Community Fund, which focuses on Cincinnati youth and promotes development of health, social interaction and education.

Griffey makes an annual donation of $25,000, which is earmarked toward supporting the Reds Rookie Success League program, a coed, character-building summer baseball league that targets at-risk kids ages 8-11.

"Junior's financial involvement in our Reds Rookie Success League the past three seasons represents a significant breakthrough for the Community Fund," said Charley Frank, executive director of the Reds Community Fund. "The dollars have given us the stability to grow and improve the program, while the name recognition has added credibility inside the locker room and throughout the community.

"He doesn't get the credit he deserves for his willingness to assist important causes financially due to his preference to remain out of the spotlight."

A member of its national board of directors, Griffey also spends time helping the Boys and Girls Clubs of America. In 2005, he was named the winner of the Joe Nuxhall Good Guy Award presented by the Cincinnati chapter of the Baseball Writers' Association of America.

In 2000, during his first year with the Reds, Griffey was nominated for the award. He was also the Mariners' nominee from 1996-98.

Those kinds of accolades should leave a legacy as prolific as what Griffey has done with a bat.

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