Now, Pagan's name has become intertwined with that of his idol.
Pagan is the Mets' nominee for the 2010 Roberto Clemente Award presented by Chevrolet, which is given annually to a player who demonstrates the values that Clemente displayed in his commitment to the community. Last season, Derek Jeter of the Yankees won the award; Johan Santana was the Mets' nominee.
"When you see Roberto Clemente, you don't only see the baseball player," Pagan said. "You see the example out of the lines, the great example giving back to the community -- that's how he died. That's the legacy he left, especially for us as Puerto Ricans. He was the best player ever to be born from Puerto Rico, so when you see Roberto Clemente, you see a professional baseball player outside and inside the lines. He was a big example for us."
All 30 Clemente Award nominees have immersed themselves similarly in the type of humanitarian and community efforts that distinguished the Hall of Fame right fielder. Clemente's life ended in a plane crash at age 38, as he was personally delivering aid to Nicaraguan earthquake victims on New Year's Eve 1972.
Fans, who can cast votes for any of the 30 club nominees through Oct. 8 on MLB.com, will once again have the opportunity to help select the national winner. Voters will automatically be registered for a chance to win a trip for four to the 2010 World Series to see the national winner receive the Roberto Clemente Award.
The winner of the fan ballot will receive one vote in an election by a special selection panel of baseball dignitaries and media members, including Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig and Clemente's widow, Vera Clemente.
The Mets are hoping that panel will select Pagan, who has spent much of his time in New York teaming up with charities such as City Harvest to fight hunger. This past winter, Pagan flew his wife and two young daughters to New York City so that they too could help deliver 5,000 pounds of food to area food pantries during the holiday season.
"It was a very positive thing for my wife and my kids to see, when we went to a place to feed the hungry," Pagan said. "That's something really good, especially for me. I come from a poor neighborhood. I want to give back to the community now that I can do it."
Prior to Friday evening's game at Citi Field, the Mets will honor Pagan as their nominee for one of baseball's most prestigious annual awards. As part of his nomination, Pagan will donate money to his wife's high school in Puerto Rico, which has a focus on music education.
"I can't tell you how great it feels, and that's why I want to be part of the community," Pagan said. "Roberto did it and that was his legacy, so we want to keep doing it. We want to keep helping."