Cardinals' Molina wins Clemente award for Puerto Rico aid

St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina was named Wednesday as the Roberto Clemente Award winner for humanitarian efforts in helping Puerto Rico recovery from Hurricane Maria (AFP Photo/Dilip Vishwanat)

Boston (AFP) - St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina won the 2018 Roberto Clemente Award on Wednesday for his off-field achievements, notably helping rebuild his native Puerto Rico after damage from Hurricane Maria.

Molina, a two-time Major League Baseball champion in 15 major league seasons all with the Cardinals, also led Puerto Rico to runner-up finishes in the 2013 and 2017 World Baseball Classics.

But it was his work in raising money and helping Puerto Rico's hurricane recovery effort that brought him the Clemente Award, even as his efforts continue for a Caribbean island still in need.

"We're still working bringing help to Puerto Rico," Molina told ESPN. "I hope this award raises awareness that there are many people in Puerto Rico who still need help.

"There are many houses without roofs. There are many people who lost their homes. There are many people without water. We still need a lot of help."

The award is named for Clemente, a Puerto Rican star who died in a plane crash on New Year's Eve 1972 trying to deliver supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua.

It annually goes to the player who best represents baseball "through extraordinary character, community involvement, philanthropy and positive contributions, both on and off the field" and one "who truly understands the value of helping others."

Molina created a charity foundation in 2010 to help youth facing poverty, child abuse and cancer. He funds a safe house for abused children, a pediatric cancer treatment facility and a children's hospital in his hometown of Bayamon.

Molina returned to Puerto Rico two days after Hurricane Maria struck when need was desperate, devastation was total and people struggled to survive.

"I never thought or pictured in my mind that when I would arrive there in Puerto Rico that I would see something like that," Molina said in a posting on the Cardinals website.

"As soon as we landed, we saw all the destruction. It was crazy. There were no mountains. There were no trees. There was no power. They needed so much help. I was in shock."

For two weeks, Molina walked the streets to deliver food, water and other provisions. He helped reopen highways blocked by trees and other debris as well as helping to repair homes in some of Puerto Rico's hardest struck areas.

Molina has raised more than $800,000 so far to help the relief effort, a quarter of it from a celebrity softball event in Puerto Rico last December.

Molina joins 2013 winner Carlos Beltran and 2006 winner Carlos Delgado as the only Puerto Rican-born players to receive the award.

"This is a great honor for me and my family," Molina said. "Receiving this award makes us proud of all we did down there in Puerto Rico."

The Cardinals have more Clemente Award winners than any other major league club, also including Lou Brock (1976), Ozzie Smith (1995), Albert Pujols (2008) and Beltran.