Roberto Clemente: Remembering #21 and What He Taught Us
Editor’s Note: Roberto Clemente was a baseball player for the Pittsburgh Pirate, a native of Puerto Rico, winner of 12 Golden Glove awards and a member of 12 All-Star teams. He was also a very fine man, and stood for the values so dear to the Care2 community. We honor Major League Baseball’s new season with these thoughts from the author of his graphic biography, Wilfred Santiago.
On the night of July 24, 1970, thousands of fans gathered to honor Roberto Clemente at the Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh for an outstanding sixteen-year career in baseball. In an emotional speech, he spoke for the cameras and radio listeners in English and Spanish with a simple message of friendship, unity and overcoming struggles. He also talked about the love of baseball, which can cross cultural and linguistic boundaries to bring people together.
On this night, attendees were also encouraged to donate to the Children’s Hospital fund, and that was Clemente in a nutshell. He turned a situation about him into an opportunity to help those who were most vulnerable. Roberto Clemente Night is still celebrated every year.
Two years later, an earthquake devastated Nicaragua. Like many Latin countries at the time, Nicaragua was ruled by a dictator, who showed his heartless grip by blocking and holding humanitarian aid coming in from overseas in the aftermath of the disaster.
Clemente was distressed and outraged when he heard what was going on. Nicaragua was a place Clemente was familiar with and had previously visited, and so he quickly organized a committee, who sent tons of food and supplies to help the victims. But thanks to the Nicaraguan government, the aid wasn’t getting to the people. Clemente decided to use his standing and celebrity, delivering the next shipment himself to make sure it got where it was needed.
On New Year’s Eve, a plane overloaded with the humanitarian aid left San Juan, Puerto Rico, heading to Nicaragua. Clemente and the crew died when the plane crashed into the sea a few minutes after taking off. Clemente’s body was never found.
Clemente knew the ties that bind us. Being raised in both the Puerto Rican and American cultures, as well as having traveled to many countries, gave him a perspective of the world that was ahead of his time.
If Clemente had worked at a gas station instead of being a baseball superstar, his kindness would have been the same. But we never would have heard his story. Clemente was aware that being a baseball player gave him the resources to do even greater good than he could have imagined. Most importantly, we have the opportunity to know and share his life story, and for that, we all are very fortunate to come across the history of a man like Roberto Clemente.
He was a person of great complexity, and the exploration of his character and persona while creating 21: The Story of Roberto Clemente allowed me to understand that even his biography is as much about us as it is about him.
And in this world, the care and regards we receive is proportionate to the care and regards we give. We are all neighbors, and the improvement of our neighbor’s life improves our own.