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PUERTO RICO HERALD
Commemorating The 30th Anniversary Of Roberto Clementes 3,000th Hit
By Gabrielle Paese
September 27, 2002
Copyright © 2002 PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.
Monday marks the 30th anniversary of Roberto Clemente's 3,000th hit, and Major League Baseball has given Latino fans a special opportunity to honor the greatest of Puerto Rico's sports heroes.
The place to go is www.mlb.com or www.robertoclemente21.com. There, you can select from 30 of what MLB has deemed baseball's greatest moments, from Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier to Barry Bonds' 73-homer season in 2001 and including Clemente's 3,000th hit on September 30, 1972 in what would be his final at-bat in baseball.
Voters can pick five of the game's greatest moments from a timeline of 30 events and can vote up to five times. The deadline for ballots is Oct. 7. Including Clemente in the final list is a great way to keep this sports hero's memory alive, even now, 30 years later.
It's hard to believe that 30 years have passed since Clemente patrolled right field at Pittsburgh's now defunct Three River's Stadium. Few could have imagined that his 3,000th hit on Sept. 30, 1972, a double off Mets lefthander Jon Matlack, was to be his last in the game. Clemente died in a plane crash off the coast of Puerto Rico in Pinones on New Year's Eve that same year in a small plane that was carrying supplies to earthquake-stricken Nicaragua. Clemente's body was never recovered. The Hall of Fame waived its regular five-year waiting period and inducted Clemente in the summer of 1973.
During his 18-year major league career with the Pirates, Clemente was named NL batting champion four times and won 12 Gold Gloves. He was named NL MVP in 1966 and was 1971 World Series MVP.
To this day, Clemente is remembered in the far corners of the world, and particularly in Puerto Rico. Carolina just named its brand-new stadium after Clemente, who played all of his winter baseball with the Santurce Cangrejeros at Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan, just next to the Coliseum that was built after his death and also bears his name.
In Clemente's hometown of Carolina, countless venues honor him, including Roberto Clemente Sports City (RCSC), the facility Clemente dreamed of opening before his untimely death. Since 1972, Major League Baseball has kept Clemente's memory alive with the Roberto Clemente Award, given to a player who excels in the game and devotes time to community service. This year, Commissioner Bud Selig named Sept. 18 as Roberto Clemente Day in all the ballparks as part of Hispanic Heritage Month. Clemente was the first Hispanic player to reach the 3,000-hit milestone as well as the first Hispanic (and the first Puerto Rican) to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Schools, avenues and sports venues in Puerto Rico, Nicaragua and across the United States are named after Clemente. From Carolina to Pittsburgh to Massachussetts, statues have been erected in Clemente's honor. On Dec. 14, Puerto Rico's Art Museum will begin exhibiting a collection of Clemente memorabilia.
Clemente once said: "Anytime you have an opportunity to make things better and you don't, then you are wasting your time on this Earth."
You may wonder why Clemente still pulls us in after 30 years. Is it because no sports figure has been able to match Clemente's greatness both on and off the field? Is it because he died so tragically, on a selfless, humanitarian mission that most of today's athletes would never even consider undertaking?
Whatever the reason, the Clemente family, including his widow, Vera, and her three sons, are planning a series of commemorative events beginning with a ceremony to mark the anniversary of that 3,000th hit at Roberto Clemente Sports City (RCSC) on Sunday. Roberto Jr., Luis Roberto and Roberto Enrique were 6,5 and 2, respectively, at the time of their father's death and today all three help their mother carry out another of Clemente's missions: RCSC.
"The Sports City was my father's dream, a place where athletes could train, a place that offered programming to kids who might otherwise not get it," said Luis Roberto. "There's plenty of talent in Puerto Rico. What is needed are opportunities."
Dona Vera and Luis Roberto met earlier this week with Puerto Rico's Gov. Sila Calderon to offer up RCSC's services to help with Calderon's special communities initiative.
"The Sports City is more than just its sports programming and taking clinics to the communities," said Luis Roberto. "We have helped school drop outs get certifications so they can get jobs and get back into society. We have the lifeguard program at the pool, as an example.
"Our goal is to be a vehicle to help others, not just a sports entity that goes into the communities to give clinics, although that is important too."
Luis Roberto said he will appeal to the Legislature to loosen restrictions on the wetlands surrounding the 304-acre facility so that the Clemente family can add more programming and offer more options to sports enthusiasts.
Luis Roberto encouraged the Legislature and the people of Puerto Rico to see RCSC as a resource.
"There are so many restrictions that prevent us from expanding," said Luis Roberto, who noted that plans to add a golf course and hotel on the grounds cannot be carried out with the existing laws.
"We have a project here to add sports facilities and promote tourism that could have a huge impact," said Luis Roberto of the RCSC Board's blueprints for expansion.
The center currently functions with a $1.2 million budget that just covers its operating costs. Luis Roberto cautioned that the expansion plans are not borne of a desire to change RCSC's original mission, but rather to make the center self sufficient.
"My goal is to carry out my father's mission at the Sports City," said Luis Roberto. "But in order to do that I need local support. And anyone who has doubts needs only to take the time to learn what we're about. We have great programming here and we want to get to a point where we are not just another facility dependent upon government money."
The Roberto Clemente Award will be given on Oct. 20 during the World Series, followed by a 30th anniversary gala at the New York Marriott Marquis on Dec. 11.
In Puerto Rico, the activities to honor Clemente's memory include a benefit golf tournament Nov. 8 at the El Conquistador in Fajardo, a celebrity softball tournament Nov. 9 at Roberto Clemente Walker Stadium in Carolina and a Caribbean Party that same night at Palomino island at the El Conquistador hotel. Capping off the weekend is a special tribute at the Carlos Vives concert Nov. 10 at Roberto Clemente Coliseum in San Juan.
Gabrielle Paese is the Assistant Sports Editor at the San Juan Star. She is the 2000 recipient of the Overseas Press Club's Rafael Pont Flores Award for excellence in sports reporting. Comments or suggestions? Contact Gabrielle at email@example.com.
Her Column, Puerto Rico Sports Beat, appears weekly in the Puerto Rico Herald.