The Orioles have a much-needed off day today, which seems to be as close as they'll be getting to a victory this week. It's as good a time as any to call attention to one of the few bona fide stars on the current team and the positive things that he's doing in the community.
Yesterday was designated as Roberto Clemente Day across Major League Baseball, in honor of the Pirates Hall of Famer who lost his life in a 1972 plane crash en route to delivering aid to earthquake victims in Nicaragua. Each team celebrated their nominee for the 2009 Roberto Clemente Award, given to a player "who combines exceptional performance on the baseball field with devoted work in the community". Like Clemente, the Orioles' nominee is an excellent right fielder who wears #21. Nick Markakis, who signed a contract extension in the off-season and recently moved to Baltimore with his family, is making himself right at home.
In May, Nick and his wife Christina established the Right Side Foundation to improve the lives of disadvantaged children in Maryland. One of the first programs launched was "Fun for 21", in which the couple treat a group of 21 kids to a day of activities (such as lunch at the ESPN Zone and an afternoon at the National Aquarium). Last month, the Foundation's first 5K run and 1 mile fun walk was held at Patterson Park to raise funds; nearly 600 runners participated. The Markakises also regularly donate their suite at Camden Yards to a local youth group.
Nick's philanthropy extends beyond his activities with the Right Side Foundation. He's committed $75,000 annually to the Orioles Charitable Foundation, with a portion of that money earmarked for a partnership between the O's and Baltimore City Schools. He's also represented the Birds in MLB initiatives to promote breast cancer awareness and prostate cancer awareness.
If you'd like to vote for Nick Markakis to win the league-wide 2009 Roberto Clemente Award, just follow this link. It's reassuring to know that one of Baltimore's most visible players doesn't confine his best efforts to the baseball diamond.