ST. PETERSBURG -- Rays pitcher James Shields was honored before Wednesday's game as Tampa Bay's nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award, given to the player who best represents the game through sportsmanship, community involvement and positive contributions to his team.
Shields, who is actively involved with the Heart Gallery of Tampa Bay -- a charity organization designated to connect children with foster families -- was presented with a trophy and was joined on the field with several children from the Heart Gallery in a ceremony before Wednesday's game against the Red Sox.
The 27-year-old right-hander is in his third season working with the Heart Gallery locally. He has filmed public-service announcements, given autographs, participated in their fundraisers and has donated pitching lessons for their broadcast auctions. He also invites a group of Heart Gallery foster children to a Rays game each year, providing them with box seats, an opportunity to serve as a bat kid, to throw out the first pitch and sing "Take Me Out To The Ballgame."
"James gives 100 percent when he has committed to a project and follows through on his part," Rays community relations director Suzanne Murchland said. "The response we get back from the community is priceless. The work he has done creates new Shields fans and Rays fans."
The Heart Gallery is a nationwide charitable organization that helps connect children with families through a traveling exhibit of photographs and images. Shields said he intends to start his own golf tournament to raise money for the local Tampa Bay chapter of the charity.
On Wednesday, the eighth annual Roberto Clemente Day across Major League Baseball, Shields was recognized for his work by being officially nominated as the Rays' representative for the Roberto Clemente Award.
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.
Fans can participate in the selection process of the overall winner of the award now through Oct. 4. 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.
Voting fans will also be automatically registered for a chance to win a trip to the 2009 World Series, when the national winner of the Roberto Clemente Award, presented by Chevy, will be announced.
Shields is 9-10 with a 3.86 ERA this season, his third full year with Tampa Bay.
Zach Schonbrun is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.