Though he would be proud to do it, Dee Strange-Gordon didn’t think he’d be allowed to change his jersey number to 21 on Wednesday when Major League Baseball celebrates Robert Clemente Day around baseball.
The league is allowing Puerto Rican players to wear Clemente’s No. 21 to honor their island’s icon.
Gordon is not Puerto Rican, but as the Mariners’ nominee for the prestigious Roberto Clemente Award in the 2020 season, Gordon said he would’ve liked to wear a patch with the No. 4 on it, signifying the number of times he’s been nominated in his career and to celebrate the legacy left by the Pirates’ Hall of Fame outfielder as a humanitarian and ambassador to the game.
“I would definitely do it out of respect,” Strange-Gordon said via Zoom of wearing a patch, which, like the No. 21 jersey, he won’t end up wearing.
While the Most Valuable Player, Cy Young and Rookie of the Year awards have plenty of prestige, the award in Clemente’s name holds a special sort of significance.
From MLB: “The Roberto Clemente Award is the annual recognition of a player from each MLB club who best represents the game of baseball through extraordinary character, community involvement, philanthropy and positive contributions, both on and off the field.”
Just to be nominated for the award is something that Strange-Gordon doesn’t take lightly.
“It means a lot,” he said. “You know, me and my family have been doing the right things to try to help people and use our platform the best we can to try to get some change in the world.”
He’s earned the respect of teammates and manager with his efforts.
“He’s got a huge heart,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said in a postgame video call. “He’s always thinking about others, outside the game, within the game, things he can do to give back and create awareness. He’s a great example for young players as they come into the league on how you can use your voice to make a difference in a number of different areas, whether it’s in baseball or outside of baseball. He’s great representative from our team for the Clemente Award and hopefully he ends up winning it.”
Strange-Gordon was named the recipient of the 55th Hutch Award given by the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center this spring. That award is given annually to the MLB player who best represents the courage and dedication displayed by Fred Hutchinson. During the virtual Hutch Award Celebration event, over $73,000 was raised to fuel Fred Hutch’s research to end the COVID-19 pandemic.
When baseball was shutdown due to COVID-19, Strange-Gordon provided meals for families in need in his hometown while supporting a local BBQ restaurant that was struggling to stay open.
He also worked in collaboration with Uncognito, a Seattle-based streetwear company, to create customized “Flash” lightning bolt face masks. Every custom mask purchase included a free KN95 protective mask, with another donated to healthcare and emergency response workers. All the proceeds from the sales went to the Domestic Abuse Women’s Network (DAWN), to support survivors of domestic violence.
He’s also active in the current social justice movement to battle systemic racism, he is a member of the Active Players Advisory Board for The Players Alliance, an organization of current and former Black Major League Baseball players using their platform to call attention to prejudice and inequity in baseball and society.
“If it speaks to my heart, and everything doesn’t speak to your heart which is just how it goes in this world, but I just try to go into stuff that speaks to my heart that I know I can really try to get some change or help with,” Strange-Gordon said. “That’s my whole thought process is really trying to do something real, instead of talking, a lot of people just talk.”
Strange-Gordon didn’t start this charitable work this year. No, it’s been a constant even before became an established Major League Baseball player. The idea of giving back, even when you didn’t have much yourself, was ingrained into him. And once he did get financial stability, he gave back more.
“I just think it’s the right thing to do,” he said. “Coming up, we went to church. I just listened to the things that my family would say, like how you should treat people and that you should just try to live by the motto – ‘treat people as you should be treated.’ But I also try to live by the motto – ‘treat people good and not expect anything good.’ That is kind of how it is.”
The fight against domestic violence is highly personal to Strange-Gordon. His mother Devona Strange was murdered by her boyfriend when he was just 7-years-old.
It’s why he recently asked MLB to go back to his legal last name of Strange-Gordon.
In 2015, he founded the Flash of Hope program to support kids and families who have been affected by domestic violence.. Since arriving in Seattle in 2018, Strange-Gordon has partnered with the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence, LifeWire, New Beginnings, DAWN and API Chaya, meeting with families who have been impacted by domestic violence.
In 2019, he hosted several DAWN families at T-Mobile Park and then was a special guest for the non-profit organization’s 2019 Returning Dignity event, which raised over $38,000.
He serves as a spokesman for the Mariners anti-domestic violence campaign, Refuse to Abuse, which is in partnership with the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
But there’s more.
Strange-Gordon teamed up with Food for the Hungry campaign to help out some of the most underserved communities in the world. Food for the Hungry offers access to life-changing resources such as clean water, medical aid, food, equal educational opportunities for girls and boys, vocational training and empowerment.
His Stealing Bases to Strike Out Poverty campaign has helped raise more than $42,000 in two years to benefit relief efforts in the Dominican Republic and support families in Syrian refugee camps.
Other charities Strange-Gordon has been involved with over the years including the Boys & Girls Clubs, Seattle Children’s, Special Olympics USA, Make-A-Wish Foundation, Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI), and Mariners Care.
Per the press release: the league-wide winner of the Roberto Clemente Award will be selected via a panel, including Baseball Commissioner Robert D. Manfred, Jr., representatives from MLB-affiliated networks (MLB Network, FOX Sports, ESPN and TBS), MLB.com, as well as Roberto’s children, Enrique, Luis and Roberto Clemente, Jr. Fans can also vote for the Roberto Clemente Award via mlb.com/clemente21.
Over the years, three Mariners players have received the Clemente Award: Harold Reynolds in 1991; Jamie Moyer in 2003; Edgar Martinez in 2004.