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Biggio receives Clemente Award honor

Biggio receives Clemente Award

DENVER -- With 3,060 hits and 291 home runs, Craig Biggio will undoubtedly be remembered first for his offensive contributions during his 20-year Major League career. But it's quite possible the veteran second baseman is as recognizable to those in his adopted home of Houston for his affiliation with the Sunshine Kids as he is for his on-field accomplishments.

Less than a month after he said goodbye to baseball and hello to retirement, Biggio, one of the most celebrated players in Astros history, was given the highest off-the-field honor in baseball -- the 2007 Roberto Clemente Award.

"I've often said ... that baseball is a social institution, and for those who really are into sport and understand it, we have enormous social responsibilities," Commissioner Bud Selig said during a press conference at Coors Field. "I hope all the young players in this sport will watch and follow this man's career, because he is what a Major League Baseball player should be, on and off the field."

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The Clemente 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.

Biggio, the 2005 winner of the Hutch Award and the recipient of the 2006 "Heart and Hustle" Award, made it a hat trick this year, winning the top community service honor. Biggio was presented the Clemente Award during a pregame ceremony prior to Game 3 of the World Series in Denver.

"To be part of this award and recipient this year, I am very humbled and grateful for this," Biggio said. "This is something that, as a Major League Baseball player, some of us get the opportunity to have an impact on the community. Some have a chance to have a real big impact on certain communities, and I know that I'm very grateful for my 20 years in Houston to be associated with the Sunshine Kids."

Clemente's wife, Vera, and their sons, Luis and Roberto Jr., were part of the presentation, as they are every year.

"Craig was the perfect guy to win the award. We are very proud of him," Roberto Clemente Jr. said. "Craig knows the history of the game and he knows about Dad, what Dad stood for. He cares like Dad did."

Added Vera Clemente: "My sons and myself, we are very proud to be here this afternoon and to congratulate Craig Biggio for your beautiful career, and especially the work that you and your wife, Patty, have been doing. I am very impressed when I met both of you. It's like if I met you many years before."

Patty Biggio expressed a deep appreciation for Mrs. Clemente as well.

"We hugged and kissed and she told me all about how she met her husband and shared some personal stories with me," Patty Biggio said. "She's unbelievable. I just thought their story was so beautiful. The promises she made to her husband to finish what he started was just amazing. I was overwhelmed by her words."

The award presentation was an Astros family affair. Club owner Drayton McLane and his wife, Elizabeth, flew to Denver to be a part of the event, as did the Biggio's oldest son, Conor.

"This is one of the high-water marks in the history of the Houston Astros franchise," McLane said. "[It is] the culmination of Craig's 20-year career. It's the highest award Major League Baseball has, other than on-the-field performance.

"For Craig to win the Roberto Clemente Award, he's very deserving of it because of what he's done with the Sunshine Kids, but also how he has worked with every charity in Houston we've ever asked him to."

Since the early 1990s, the Biggios have been the main spokespeople for The Sunshine Kids, a support group for children with cancer and their families. They host an annual baseball party at Minute Maid Park, at which more than 100 children with cancer play baseball, with Biggio serving as the pitcher.

They also host a holiday party at the Sunshine Kids house in Houston that the Biggios helped restore and furnish. Through the annual Sunshine Kids Celebrity Golf Classic, Biggio has raised more than $2.5 million for the organization over the last 16 years.

"The Sunshine Kids are something that is an organization, we're not about a cure -- we're about families, we're about putting smiles on faces," Biggio said. "It's about raising money so a family and a group can go whitewater rafting or they can go skiing in Colorado, or they can go to Mardi Gras or a Harley Davidson ride in Hill Country, or they come out to Minute Maid Park and I'll pitch to each one of them and feed them and give them a bag.

"That's what it's about, putting smiles on their faces. That's why I think for me it's hard to really put in words, because I know who Roberto Clemente was, and seeing it in the eyes of their sons and his wife, what a great man he was, and he still is. That's why I'm very humbled and grateful for this honor and to be part of his legacy."

Chevrolet, the sponsor of the Clemente Award, donated $30,000 and a brand new 2008 Chevy Silverado in Craig's name to the Sunshine Kids Foundation. Chevrolet also will donate $30,000 to the Roberto Clemente Sports City in Puerto Rico.

"You get recognized for some of these special, special awards, but I look at it as we're all in this thing together, all Major League Baseball players, and everybody tries to do their part to the best that they can," Biggio said. "I think it's a fraternity, and I call the baseball family a fraternity, it is great because we raise millions and millions of dollars across the country for different communities across the country, and that is a great thing to be part of."

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

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