PITTSBURGH -- Removed midseason as the team's starting third baseman, Andy LaRoche is no longer one of the most visible faces on the field for this Pirates' club. Off the field, however, LaRoche is leaving an indelible mark.
His charity work in the Pittsburgh community -- primarily with Down syndrome children -- has made LaRoche the Pirates' nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award presented by Chevy. The award recognizes the player who best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and the individual's contribution to his team.
"It's obviously an honor," LaRoche said of the nomination. "I don't feel like I've done anything to deserve it."
All 30 nominees have immersed themselves in the type of humanitarian and community efforts that distinguished the life of Clemente, a life that ended at age 38 on New Year's Eve, 1972, with the crash of a plane aboard which he was personally delivering aid to Nicaraguan earthquake victims.
Fans will once again have the opportunity to participate in the selection of the national winner. They can cast votes for any of the 30 club nominees through Oct. 8.
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 Commissioner Bud Selig and Vera Clemente, widow of the Hall of Fame right fielder.
Voting fans also will be automatically registered for a chance to win a trip for four to the 2010 World Series to see the national winner presented with the Roberto Clemente Award.
LaRoche said he has felt a connection to people with Down syndrome since high school, where he had friends with the chromosomal disorder. So when the Pirates asked LaRoche if he would like to head a community initiative, the third baseman knew exactly which people he wanted to reach out to.
"I've always had a soft spot in my hard for people with it," LaRoche said. "I enjoy being around them and want to do whatever I can for to give them a special experience."
That special experience includes hosting children from the Down Syndrome Association of Pittsburgh and the Miracle League program once per homestand. LaRoche hosts a private meet-and-greet in the dugout prior to batting practice, introducing the children and their families to his teammates for autographs and pictures.
LaRoche spends additional time teaching baseball fundamentals to the children, and he purchases game tickets and concession coupons for his guests. This is LaRoche's second season involved in this outreach program.
"Bringing kids out, I enjoy it just as much as they do," LaRoche said. "It's something that I hope I'll be able to do with kids as long as we keep finding kids that want to keep coming out and hang with us. If so, I'm more than happy to hang for a little while."
In addition to bringing children out to PNC Park, LaRoche also makes visits to the Pirates Charities Miracle League Field, which was built for special-needs children. During his visits, LaRoche provides baseball instruction and sometimes serves as an honorary coach.
His relationship with the Miracle League effort in Western Pennsylvania goes beyond his appearances, though. LaRoche has become the local chapter's team spokesman and is featured in public service announcements promoting the program.
"Andy has a very real and sincere interest in spending time with children with special needs," said Michelle Mejia, the Pirates' community relations manager. "Many times their parents will comment on Andy's easy demeanor and how his interactions with them never feel forced. He is very quiet and unassuming about his work in the community and leads by example. We are very proud of his involvement over the past two seasons."
LaRoche will be honored for the award nomination prior to the Pirates' home game against the Braves on Wednesday.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.