Right-handed pitcher Joe Cruz has been named the winner of the 2012 Erik Walker Community Champion Award. The award annually recognizes one Rays minor league player who exemplifies teamwork, sportsmanship and community involvement, attributes exhibited by Rays minor league pitcher Erik Walker, who died tragically in October 2006 in a canoeing accident.
Cruz, 24, will be recognized at the Rays minor league awards ceremony at Tropicana Field prior to tonight's Rays-Red Sox game. He will receive a trophy, and $2,500 will be awarded to the charity of his choice.
"Joe demonstrates his love for the game of baseball by giving back to fans and making sure they walk away from our ballpark with a great memory," said Biscuits Director of Marketing Jordan Mandelkorn. "His involvement with the community and fans is outstanding, and he'll carry that class and humanity with him wherever he goes."
Cruz went 6-6 with a 4.60 ERA (78.1-IP, 40-ER) and 64 strikeouts in 18 appearances (15 starts) for Double-A Montgomery this year. The Monterey Park, Calif., native was selected by the Rays in the 30th round of the 2007 June Draft.
Each of the Rays six domestic minor league affiliates nominated a candidate for the award. The Rays will recognize the other six finalists by donating $500 in each player's name to the charity of his choice. The other five finalists were Chris Archer (Durham), Chris Rearick (Charlotte), Austin Hubbard (Bowling Green), Jeff Ames (Hudson Valley) and John Alexander (Princeton). Nominees embodied the qualities of Walker, recognized as a great teammate and caring person and who enriched the lives of people in need and inspired others to do the same.
Walker was drafted by the Rays in June 2006 and had just completed his first professional season with the Hudson Valley Renegades when his life was cut short on October 26, just 11 days after his 23rd birthday.
Past Winners of the Erik Walker Community Champion Award
2011 - Matt Hall, Charlotte
2010 - Stephen Vogt, Charlotte
2009 - Ryan Wiegand, Princeton
2008 - Matt Spring, Montgomery
2007 - Pat Cottrell, Vero Beach