As Major League Baseball celebrated Roberto Clemente Day on Septmber 9, I was moved by the posts honoring this amazing man. Viewing photos, watching videos, sharing posts, memories flooded over me.
A friend shared a post by a baseball fan lamenting never seeing Clemente, the Pittsburgh Pirates’ great right fielder from 1955 until his untimely death in 1972 play. “If there’s one athlete, past or present, that I wish I could have seen play, it would be Roberto Clemente.”
I understand the sentiment. Because I saw Clemente play. And I am forever grateful.
At Forbes Field and at Three Rivers Stadium, I had the privilege to see Roberto Clemente play. On numerous occasions, I saw him play with the skill and grace and passion that few brought to the game. Slashing hits. Unmatched arm. He covered right field like a blanket. He ran the bases with abandon.
But as great a player as he was, Roberto Clemente was an even greater human being. He cared for children, offering clinics in Puerto Rico and Pittsburgh. He advocated for civil rights. He demanded that he be treated justly as he challenged the systemic racism that permeated baseball and society.
Interviewed after he led the Pirates to victory in the 1971 World Series, Roberto Clemente spoke first to his parents – in Spanish. There was not a dry eye in my house. I suspect there was not a dry eye in many places. Tears fell in puddles when Clemente died on a humanitarian mission to aid the people of Nicaragua.
Yes. I saw Roberto Clemente play. More importantly, I saw Roberto Clemente live. And I am better for it.