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A Gentleman's Gentle Reminder
Jonathan Lucroy humbly accepts the Brewers' Roberto Clemente Award nomination.

Photo by Ben Smidt

Inside the clubhouse, Jonathan Lucroy wasn’t talking about all the losses this season, and not because his team had just won Tuesday night’s game.

The budding Milwaukee Brewers star sat before his locker in his comfortable chair, and as he polished off the comforting postgame treat of an ice cream bar, he brought up uncomfortable things.

He recalled a year-old trip to the Washington, D.C., hospital wards at Walter Reed, where military veterans recover from their war wounds. “That’s an experience like no other,” Lucroy said. “You walk in there, and you see guys cut in half. People missing legs and arms, and all they have is their torso. Very humbling, man.”

And he recalled an hours-old trip to a Milwaukee hospital ward, where he spent part of Tuesday morning visiting with sick children. “It’s very humbling for me, and I’m very honored and very blessed to be able to go do that,” he said. “Hopefully, I can somehow make their lives just a little bit better.”

No, they are not the typical postgame topics, but it was not a typical game. Because it was Roberto Clemente Day at Miller Park, and in a pregame ceremony, Lucroy was honored as the Brewers’ nominee for the 2013 Roberto Clemente Award. He stood near the home dugout and smiled his typical humble smile, accepting the recognition for his many good deeds, none of which are done for recognition’s sake. Then he went 0-for-4, duties soon forgotten, and then he talked about those other, more substantive deeds, but only because he was asked about them.

“Whenever you have a platform to be able to stand on to help people, like we do,” Lucroy said, “you have to take advantage of it.”

Clemente made that notion his life’s mission, a mission that today’s players know only through stories and archives. It’s been more than four decades since Clemente died in an airplane crash on the last day of 1972. It was a plane laden with relief supplies bound for Nicaraguan earthquake victims, a most tragic end for one of baseball’s most storied players, but baseball sustains his legacy with the annual eponymous award. Not because he was such a fine player or made 15 All-Star games – lots of great players have made lots of All-Star games – but because he combined that all of that with a lifetime of humanitarian work.

“That probably means more to me than just being a great player,” Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said Tuesday. “Anytime you have a superstar that cares about people and is the model citizen you want your kids to look up to, that means a lot to me.”

Lucroy is not yet a superstar, but his star has grown enough in Milwaukee to brighten someone’s day just by showing up. So he shows up at hospitals and at Fisher House Wisconsin, bringing smiles to kids and military vets who could use some. He gives money and time, grants wishes to Make A Wish wishers and brings wounded warriors to Miller Park, and does yet more for more causes, too.

These are not the types of things that usually make much news, just a difference. And the Clemente Award honors not only the man for which it’s named, but reminds us of how folks are following part of his path.

“I’ve realized how big of a deal it is,” Lucroy says of Clemente’s legacy. “To give your life doing something for somebody else is the epitome of selflessness and unselfishness. We can only strive to be like that.”

And perhaps strive to remember more often.

Feel free to follow me on Twitter, where I tweet as howiemag. Hear me chat with fellow MilMag staff on “No Revisions,” our new weekly radio show that airs noon Tuesdays on WMSE. And listen to me talk sports with Mitch Teich once a month on WUWM's "Lake Effect."

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