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09/02/08 9:10 PM ET

Damon Yankees' Clemente nominee

Work with injured soldiers has outfielder in running for award

NEW YORK -- When Johnny Damon steps into a hospital room to visit a wounded soldier, the patient sees him as a Major League Baseball player, a sports star -- an idol.

By the time Damon leaves, he is still all of those things, but he's also a friend.


The Yankees outfielder regularly takes time out of his schedule to meet injured soldiers and their families, and he recruits teammates to join him. He is a national spokesperson for the Wounded Warrior Project (WWP), a non-profit organization that aims to help severely wounded soldiers with their readjustment to civilian life.

Damon's efforts off the field have been recognized, as he has been selected as one of this year's nominees for the Roberto Clemente Award, presented by Chevrolet.

"A bunch of these kids who do get injured, they actually looked up to us when they were kids, and that's what they are," Damon said. "They're 18, 19 years old, and they grew up admiring us, wanting to be like us. And for them to be able to meet us, they get pretty excited."

Sometimes, the talk is about baseball. Sometimes, it has nothing to do with sports. But Damon said he always wants to make sure the soldiers and their families know that they are appreciated and getting the attention they deserve.

"These soldiers make sure we have our freedom and the way of life that many Americans are used to, and I think it's a tribute to their sacrifices," Damon said. "You don't have to be for or against the war. It's the fact that we get to live in a place of freedom, and that's why I wanted to get involved in it."

Damon's work with WWP is just one of the charitable efforts that he has participated in. The veteran is the founder of the Johnny Damon Foundation, an organization that assists local and national programs that provide leadership and growth opportunities for disadvantaged children at risk. The outfielder also hosts the Johnny Damon Celebrity Golf Classic to raise money for charities based in Orlando, Fla.

The 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. Last year's winner was Craig Biggio of the Astros.

Fans can participate in the selection process of the overall winner of the award now through Oct. 5. 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 MLB Commissioner Bud Selig and Vera Clemente, widow of the Pirates' Hall of Fame right fielder whose spirit and goodwill always will be remembered. The winner will be announced during the World Series.

Damon doesn't necessarily like to talk about most of the charity efforts that garnered him the nomination of this award. But his involvement in WWP is an exception.

Damon was born at Fort Riley, an Army base in Kansas. The son of a career Army NCO and Vietnam veteran, he was considered an "Army brat" during his early childhood, moving to various military bases in the United States and abroad. The personal connection drew Damon to WWP's cause and made him a passionate messenger for the organization.

"I think this is something that everybody can relate with, whether they live out in Puerto Rico or the Midwest -- anywhere," Damon said. "Everyone knows someone who's in the war and who has been affected by it, so I think that's a reason why I like to spread this word."

Samantha Newman is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.