MINNEAPOLIS -- A smile slowly crept across Justin Morneau's face as he started to talk about a visit he'd made to the Ronald McDonald House earlier this season. During the trip, the first baseman had a chance to play a game of Wiffle ball with a group of kids who were staying at the house with their families. "The kids were so excited," Morneau said. "That was a pretty good day -- just to be able to do stuff like that and see the excitement that it brings to those kids. It's a lot of fun, and it makes you realize how lucky you are to be able to do these things." There hasn't been a lot for Morneau to smile about baseball-wise since his season was put on hold after he sustained a concussion in a game at Toronto on July 7. But even though the injury has limited his impact on the field, it certainly hasn't kept Morneau from another one of his passions -- helping in the community.
And it's Morneau's strong desire to make an impact around the Twin Cities that has earned him the honor of being named the Twins' nominee for this year's Roberto Clemente Award. All 30 nominees have immersed themselves in the types of humanitarian and community efforts that distinguished the life of Clemente, a life that ended at age 38 in a plane crash on New Year's Eve 1972, when he was delivering aid to Nicaraguan earthquake victims. "It's pretty humbling," Morneau said of his nomination. "[Clemente is] definitely someone who inspires us as baseball players to see what we can do and the impact that we can have on others. "What he did on the field is great, 3,000 hits, but the impact that he's had off the field is maybe even greater than what he did as a baseball player. You can see that by so many of today's players looking up to what he did. He set the bar as to what you can accomplish as a baseball player off the field. So to be nominated is an honor." Awards are nice, but Morneau's reasons for being so involved in the community aren't about getting recognition for his efforts. Morneau actually shies away from attention when it comes to many of the things that he does, said Bryan Donaldson, the Twins' community affairs director, and he eschews having cameras accompany him on the frequent visits he makes to children's hospitals, gifts in hand. Morneau may prefer to be quiet about his efforts, but he often recruits teammates to come along with him on the visits. Morneau and his wife, Krista, who is a Minnesota native, have been quite active during the offseason as well. For the past two years, they've purchased Christmas presents for kids of families who cannot afford to do so themselves. They've also provided Thanksgiving dinners for low-income families. The Morneaus have also targeted families of soldiers and veterans with their efforts. That includes providing more than 5,000 tickets last year through his Morneau's Mounties ticket program to the families of the U.S. Military, so they can attend a home game. They've also donated money to the Salvation Army to help furnish 50 apartments for veterans. If there is one charity that Morneau supports more than any other, it's the Arthritis Foundation. The case is near to his heart since his niece, Madelyn Buss, suffers from juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, and last year the Morneaus embarked on an effort to raise awareness of the disease. The Morneaus held the second annual Justin Morneau Casino Night in June to help raise funds for the Arthritis Foundation. The event raised more than $140,000, 50 percent more than last year. "You never want to see anyone suffer through a disease or illness, especially kids," Morneau said. "I don't know if they are braver than we are as adults, but it's always amazing to see the strength they have. And we've been able to see a direct impact of how people are affected with arthritis. So the difference that we can make by raising awareness and funds is pretty cool." Morneau has also used his on-field achievements to give back to the community. Each year he donates $100 for each RBI he tallies to the Twins Community Fund; the money is used to help renovate two ball fields per year. To date, Morneau has helped fund the renovations for five fields around Minnesota. Fans will once again have the opportunity to participate in the selection of the overall winner of the Roberto Clemente Award presented by Chevrolet, and they can cast votes for any of the 30 nominees through Oct. 8. The winner of the fan ballot winner will receive one vote to be added to those cast by a selection panel of baseball dignitaries and media members. The panel includes Commissioner Bud Selig and Vera Clemente, the widow of the Hall of Fame right fielder. Fans who vote will be automatically registered for a chance to win a trip for four to the 2010 World Series to see the winner presented with the Roberto Clemente Award. Morneau will be honored as the Twins' nominee prior to Wednesday's game against the Royals at Target Field, but for him, the recognition can't compare to the joy he receives from doing his part. "For anyone that does any of that stuff off the field, it's not for the recognition, it's for the impact we can have on other people," he said. "And I think we're in a position where we're fortunate enough to be a bright spot in someone's day or to be able to make an impact on someone's life. It's a pretty great position to be in."
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.