MLB celebrates Roberto Clemente Day, ceremony at Citi Field

NEW YORK (AP) — For big leaguers who saw him play, Roberto Clemente was a jaw-dropping talent and an undeniable force on the court that had a powerful impact on young ballplayers. His selfless humanitarianism also left a lasting impression.

NEW YORK (AP) — For big leaguers who saw him play, Roberto Clemente was a jaw-dropping talent and an undeniable force on the court that had a powerful impact on young ballplayers.

His selfless humanitarianism also left a lasting impression.

Major League Baseball celebrated its 21st annual Roberto Clemente Day on Thursday, with festivities centered in New York City, where the Mets hosted the Hall of Fame outfielder’s former team, the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Clemente died in a plane crash aged 38 while trying to deliver relief to earthquake victims in Nicaragua on New Year’s Eve 1972. To mark the 50th anniversary of that tragedy, more than a Dozen winners of baseball’s prized Roberto Clemente Award for Philanthropy and Playing Excellence joined members of the Clemente family at Citi Field for the pre-game ceremony.

“The most important trophy I have in my house. Because it’s not just a trophy,” said former Mets slugger and 2006 winner Carlos Delgado, like Clemente a proud Puerto Rican native.

Hall of Famers Dave Winfield and Jim Thome were among the Clemente Award winners featured on the court before life and career highlights from the 15-time All-Star were played on the large video board at the center field.

Players and coaches from both teams — all wearing Clemente’s No. 21, like others around the majors — lined the baselines. Puerto Rican musician José Feliciano performed Puerto Rico’s national anthem and “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and Clemente’s 4-year-old grandson threw out a first pitch in an RC III Pirates jersey.

“It’s a very special energy today,” Roberto’s son Luis Clemente said. “The energy is totally different this year.”

Clemente, a beloved Puerto Rican baseball-loving icon, became the first player from the Caribbean and Latin America to be inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1973.

The strong-armed right fielder won 12 Golden Gloves, four batting titles and the 1966 NL MVP award. He helped lead the Pirates to a pair of championships in 18 brilliant seasons and was the 1971 World Series MVP.

“I came to the league in 1973. I knew who Roberto Clemente was and I was going to be a right-back, so I watched the way he charged the ball, picked it up, sent people off. I wish (that we) could have played so I could test each other’s arms. But he was an incredible player and an even more incredible human being,” Winfield said.

“Before I go, man, that was one of the things I wanted to do was win this Roberto Clemente award because it would just recognize some of the work that had been done throughout my career. “, he added. “I missed him by a year. But his legacy continues and we are all part of it.

Clemente had his 3,000th hit in his last at bat, a brace against Mets left-hander Jon Matlack on Sept. 30, 1972.

“You look back through history and some of the things he’s done and what he means,” Mets manager Buck Showalter said, “it’s a great thing baseball is doing.”

“I think of him catching the ball on the right field line and turning and throwing,” Showalter added, noting that he swung a Roberto Clemente model bat in high school. “I think about his reckless abandonment and what a loud runner he was. Can you imagine what it was like trying to tag it to the second, coming in, back when you could actually slip with your spikes and hang on to the bag because it wasn’t hard, plastic and smooth? »

In recent years, MLB has pushed to retire Clemente’s number 21 for all teams, as the sport did in 1997 to honor Dodgers trailblazer Jackie Robinson for breaking baseball’s 50-year color barrier. earlier.

“It’s a situation where I think it’s gaining momentum,” Pirates manager Derek Shelton said. “I think today is one of the best days of the year.”

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Mike Fitzpatrick, Associated Press







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