ST. PAUL — Nelson Cruz Sr. stood behind home plate at the Estadio Quisqueya Juan Marichal ballpark one morning in early March next to his wife and one of his daughters, gushing about his son.
It was a couple of hours before the Twins were scheduled to take on the Tigers in a spring training game in Santo Domingo, the Dominican Republic’s capital city, and Cruz Sr. was overwhelmed with emotion — mostly pride — as he talked about his son, Nelson Cruz. The Twins’ designated hitter is a six-time all-star and a member of the 400-home run club with a seemingly endless list of baseball accomplishments. But baseball wasn’t what Cruz Sr. wanted to talk about.
“I thought I was a gentle, humble and caring person. I told him, ‘You have surpassed me and it’s a very good feeling,’” Cruz Sr. said through an interpreter in March. “The job his mother and I did on Nelson and his sister and the other children has been intense, has been a lot, but it’s a reward to see it being multiplied through Nelson.”
While Cruz Sr. sounds like any proud father talking about his son, that praise is well-deserved. For his charitable efforts in his hometown of Las Matas de Santa Cruz, Nelson Cruz was named the 2020 Muhammad Ali Sports Humanitarian Award winner during Sunday night’s ESPYs.
“All the stuff that we do as a foundation, we do without thinking that we’re going to be recognized, but it makes it special to know that people are watching what you’re doing, and in this case, ESPN recognized the work that you put in in your country, not even in the States,” Cruz, who teared up after being told the news, said Monday, June 22. “It’s just really, really special.”
Among his efforts, Cruz has donated a fire truck and ambulance to first responders in his hometown, inspired years ago after a friend’s house burned down. He helped build a new police station in town and provided transportation for the city’s police officers. He also has donated wheelchairs, canes, walkers and crutches to residents of his hometown and has brought in doctors and dentists to treat patients there.
His community involvement stretches beyond his hometown, as he’s been active in local communities of cities he’s played in and has been involved with the Healing Venezuela initiative to help 2,000 newborns receive sustenance during their first year of life.
“They don’t make them any better,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli tweeted Sunday night. “This lofty award was made for Nellie. Incredible.”
Cruz’s charitable efforts will only ramp up in the coming days — as a result of winning the award, his Boomstick23 Foundation will be given a $100,000 grant. The other finalists, which include former Lynx star Maya Moore and former Timberwolves forward Kevin Love, among others, all receive a $25,000 grant.
Cruz already has plans for that money. Some of it, he said, will go toward a computer center in his hometown that will enable more people there to earn their diplomas. While the land for the facility has been procured, construction has been slowed due to COVID-19, but Cruz expects it to start soon.
He also plans to work closely with Esperanza, a foundation started by former MLB player Dave Valle, which pledges to provide “excellent financial and holistic services which equip and empower” people in the Dominican Republic. This is done through offering loans to local entrepreneurs to create small companies in their communities, Cruz said.
“They’ve identified what types of companies are good in my hometown and they bring people the tools for those companies to be successful here,” Cruz said. “The good thing is that 95 percent of those people who got those loans, that money, (they) bring the money back. So we’re going to keep helping people along the way.”
And for those who know Cruz, the idea that he already has identified exactly what his next charitable ventures will be likely doesn’t come as much of a surprise.
“He’s a better human being than player, and that’s hard to do with obviously the stature in the game that he’s achieved. But he’s a better human being,” Twins third-base coach Tony Diaz said in March.