The National Magazine of the Successful American Latino: A touch of royalty in right field – baseball player Roberto Clemente

A touch of royalty in right field – baseball player Roberto Clemente – Biografia

Patrick Ridgell

Roberto Clemente was mad. Supplies needed badly by earthquake victims in Nicaragua had failed to reach their destination, and the way an earlier shipment had been distributed had also angered him. This time he was not only determined to take the new relief supplies himself, but to make sure they would get to the right places, too.

Poor weather and an unstable, prop-driven DC-7 made Clemente’s wife, Vera, ask him to postpone the flight, but it had already been delayed 16 hours. People were suffering in Nicaragua, and no other plane was available.

On December 31, 1972, Clemente and four other men boarded the Managua-bound plane with 16,000 pounds of emergency supplies and left San Juan, Puerto Rico. They never made it. Clemente was 38.

Clemente’s death prompted baseball’s Hall of Fame to wave the five-year period a player must wait after ending his career to become eligible. In a special election, the Baseball Writers Association of America overwhelmingly voted Clemente in. Clemente was the first Latin American to be inducted into the Hall, and only four others have made it into the Hall since.

Clemente was born on August 18, 1934, in Barrio San Anton in Carolina, Puerto Rico, and nurtured his love and skill for baseball as a youngster. Shortly after his high school graduation the Brooklyn Dodgers signed him away from the Santurce Crabbers and sent him to play for their top affiliate.

In 1954 the Pittsburgh Pirates drafted Clemente, and from 1955 to 1972 he manned their right field with a throwing arm that today’s players covet. “Clemente could field the ball in New York and throw out a guy in Pennsylvania,” veteran broadcaster Vin Scully once said.

Clemente won a Most Valuable Player (MVP) in 1966, the 1971 World Series MVP, 12 Gold Gloves, and four National League batting titles. He got career hit number 3,000 on September 30, 1972. He was the second player to appear on a US postage stamp. Jackie Robinson was the first.

Roberto Clemente’s name now graces 40 United States schools, two children’s hospitals in Nicaragua, several parks from Pittsburgh to the Bronx, and baseball venues from Puerto Rico to Mannheim, Germany.

“I still see him sometimes when I am alone,” said Vera, who raised their three sons. “People remember him as a ballplayer, but he was so much more. He was a father, a husband, a wonderful man.”

Former baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn said in Clemente’s eulogy, “He gave the term complete a new meaning. He made the word superstar seem inadequate. He had about him the touch of royalty.'”

And when Clemente’s nephew Edgard Velasquez joined the Colorado Rockies, he fought for the right to wear number 21, Clemente’s number.

“Every single kid in Puerto Rico knows who he was–a great guy, a great player, a man who helped everybody,” Velasquez said. “He represented all Latino players. There was only Roberto.” Every time you read about a Marco Etcheverry who opens a soccer school, or a Sammy Sosa who raises funds for the impoverished, remember they do so with Roberto Clemente in mind. As Clemente once put it, “Any time you have an opportunity to make things better and you don’t, then you are wasting your time on this earth.”

Patrick Ridgell is a sports writer for The Provo Daily Herald in Utah.

COPYRIGHT 2002 Ferraez Publications of America Corp.

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