PITTSBURGH -- Andrew McCutchen has a burning desire to be Pittsburgh's next Roberto Clemente. He is committed to doing the things that fueled Clemente's enduring legacy, to mirroring the achievements for which people remember and revere The Great One. Oh. McCutchen would not mind also playing baseball at a similar level. But for the Pirates' center fielder, emulating Clemente extends far outside the foul lines.
"Look at Roberto Clemente, at what he did: The majority of people that you ask about him, they don't say that he was a great baseball player, they say he was a great guy," McCutchen said earlier this month, between fans-pleasing appearances at PirateFest. "That's the person that I admire, and that's how I want to be. "My biggest thing is, I don't want people to know me because I played baseball. I want people to know me for other things I did outside a baseball field. Yeah, Clemente was a great baseball player, but the things he did off the field said more about him." Compassion. Goodwill. Kinship. Sacrifice, in Clemente's case, of the ultimate kind. "That's what it's all about," McCutchen said. "It's about more than just being a baseball player. It's using that to do things that help out humanity, and being able to give back to your community and being able to interact with it. You always have to remember where you came from." That last part is virtually a cliche out of the mouths of people who have been blessed to realize their dreams. When McCutchen says it, however, it is a life path. He forces himself to remember. Around Thanksgiving, McCutchen posted on his Twitter page a picture of him standing in front of the ramshackle Bartow, Fla., house in which he had grown up, with the message: "Come a long way since living here. Thank you God for all you've done in my life. Amen." The image planted a lump in the throats of all who saw it. McCutchen knows all too well that countless people are still at the ramshackle stage of their lives. So the motivation to help comes easily. Like all fallible baseball players, he may not always be able to follow all of Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle's directives, but he is nailing the one the skipper voiced during PirateFest: "As we go into the holiday season, there might be somebody out there limping a little bit you might be able to help along the way. There are a lot of less fortunate people than us out there, so let's see if we can lend a helping hand, especially within our neighborhoods and in our community. That's my Christmas wish." McCutchen fulfills it every day, and he lived by that personal golden rule even before February, when he entered into a six-year, $51.5 million contract with the Pirates that has enabled his heart to grow with his salary. As have the people and organizations wanting a piece of him. McCutchen has matured as a man and as an athlete by making the correct choices, and he trusts the same instincts in dealing with that aspect of visible celebrity. "You just follow your heart; that's the biggest thing," McCutchen said. "You follow what you feel needs to be done, or what you feel you have a heart for doing, That's what I do; I let my heart make those decisions. You definitely do have a lot of people coming at you one way or another. You do have to watch out for things like being taken advantage of. Maybe there are people like that. But for the most part, people are sincere. But you just try to do good things." The venues for good deeds are many, and McCutchen's newest affiliation is with Habitat for Humanity, an established and respected organization "with such a great history, you don't have to worry about any intent." Thus, McCutchen recently became Habitat for Humanity's spokesman for the greater Pittsburgh area, providing a very conspicuous voice for the group that helps arrange housing for low-income families. "As a member of the Pirates and of the Pittsburgh community, it is important for me to be able to work with organizations that benefit the community in a powerful way," McCutchen said. "I strongly believe in the mission and goals of Habitat for Humanity and am eager to assist in improving the quality of life for those that are less fortunate." It is the least McCutchen can do, he believes, to ensure today's children have the benefit of the type of familial core that paved his own road to adulthood. "A home is the foundation for love, support, safety," McCutchen noted, "all those family bonds that are critical for children to grow into happy, productive adults." Just the tip of McCutchen's benevolent iceberg. Last summer, he hung out both at and away from PNC Park with "Cutch's Crew" of 20 student-athletes from Oliver and Perry High Schools, as a mentor helping to set the stage for the traditional rivals' merger, in August. "Cutch's Crew" will also compete as a team in next spring's Pittsburgh Marathon, with donations secured by the runners going directly to Pirates Charities. McCutchen also helps fulfill requests to the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Greater Pennsylvania and Southern West Virginia. On Sept. 28, he spent an entire day with CJ Wright, who had singled him out as a personal idol. In addition to regular contributions to Pirates Charities and Cutch's Crew, McCutchen made $10,000 donations to both the Fields for Kids program and the Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh. "Any way I can help, anything I can do to change the lives of anyone ... I want to be a part of that," McCutchen said. "I'll always try to do that. That's what it's all about." And Clemente smiles down, knowing his mission is in able hands.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.