Homage to a baseball glory who unites us through the ages

Nearly 50 years since Roberto Clemente’s fatal plane crash those who love baseball — Hispanics and Non-Hispanic boomers alike — will remember where they were when the news broke on New Year’s Eve 1972. In the midst of the celebrations, we learned that Clemente had perished on a disaster relief flight bound for Nicaragua. Many of us cried on that tragic day. For the boomer generation, it was a moment like that experienced by today’s generation when Koby Bryant’s helicopter crashed.

Hispanic Heritage Month shined a light on the many achievements and contributions of Hispanics to our country and offer an opportunity to acknowledge extraordinary Hispanics who inspire others to achieve success and remind us of our common humanity. In the spirit of continuing beyond this dedicated month, we highlight an extraordinary man who happens to be Hispanic. Roberto Clemente’s extraordinary life and illustrious 18-season Hall of Fame career transcend time and special holidays.

Clemente was the first Hispanic player to be awarded the National League MVP (1966) and World Series MVP (1971). Clemente was nicknamed “The Great One,” part of an exceptional group of athletes reaching 3,000 hits in a regular season. Born in Puerto Rico in 1934, Roberto Clemente Walker played with the Brooklyn Dodgers’ minor league team before making his major league appearance with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1955. He led the National League in batting four times during the 1960s and starred in the 1971 World Series.

What was it about Clemente that resonated across geo-political, racial, and economic lines?

To this day, Clemente Museums, Statues and Stadiums bear his name.  His fans transcended racial and cultural barriers because of his kind, selfless and passionate disposition to help others in need. Craig Calcaterra of NBC Sports wrote “Clemente was truly heroic and brave, not because he was forced into some dire situation. He was heroic precisely because he didn’t have to face anything at all if he didn’t want to do so. He was a man of means and status, and he could have ushered in 1973 in comfortable circumstances in his native Puerto Rico and write a check to a relief fund to help those earthquake victims.  He could have organized a benefit.  But he didn’t. He was known to deliver relief supplies himself, especially during off season. In the eve of 1972, he found out that some of the supplies he had delivered to Managua were being pilfered by crooked officials, so he got on board the next supply flight himself to ensure that they got to those who needed them the most. It was the last decision he’d ever make.”

His spirit lives on from generation to generation and his legacy is weaved into the fiber of many family storytelling. Comunicad Chief Insight Officer Emilio Pardo remembers that for the longest time in Puerto Rico, there was only one team — the Pittsburgh Pirates — and one player, Roberto Clemente. A Cuban American who immigrated with his parents to Puerto Rico, Emilio’s father was also named Roberto and would tell young Emilio stories of how good Clemente was. Don Roberto devotedly followed the Great one’s career. Emilio recalls that he never missed the games. Watching the games as a family was a ritual homage to Clemente and the Pirates.

Emilio also remembers his father’s recollection of Clemente’s tragic death. It is a nostalgic account on how his father had met the pilots from that fatal flight days before the crash at a restaurant he owned in San Juan. “The story was sentimental, part anecdotal—part embellished legend and so powerful–similar to ‘the day the music died’ when Ritchie Valance author of La Bamba crashed on a flight that shook the nation and inspired the song by Don McLean, American Pie.” Emilio’s father repeated that story until his last days. Fast forward several decades when Emilio became a father– as fate would have it when on a college visit in Pittsburgh, Emilio found himself, re-telling his father’s story to his son. As they toured the city, they serendipitously found themselves before the big statue of The Great One at the City’s Roberto Clemente Stadium. Emilio describes that day as a circle-of-life moment. The impact of the Clemente legacy is at the fiber of our shared Hispanic Heritage, and storytelling is the thread that intertwines our common experience as Latinos. Emilio noted, “My son never met his Abuelo Roberto, but will cherish the memories and his historic six degrees of separation to the Great One.

The Roberto Clemente legacy reverberates not only among the baseball community and his fellow Puerto Ricans, but it also lives on with Hispanics and Americans of many cultures from Managua to Manhattan. The Great One left a life example that we are reminded to emulate, and not just during Hispanic Heritage Month. Clemente surely would have led the efforts to help those struggling during these difficult times when we should focus on our shared passions and goodwill towards all.

To learn more about Roberto Clemente’s illustrious life, go to Beyond Baseball: The Life of Roberto Clemente, a Smithsonian Traveling Exhibition site where you can see the exhibit and download a free audio podcast.  http://www.robertoclemente.si.edu/english/index.htm

Comunicad has also joined efforts and been asked to share the opportunity for various sponsorship levels showcasing the legendary athlete, and the launching of the Roberto Clemente Museum to be inaugurated later this year in Puerto Rico. Included are nationally broadcast documentaries, virtual tours, and events. Promotional positioning of brands in the broadcasts, include the documentary and storytelling interviews with several celebrities and individuals instrumental in Clemente’s life.

For details and how companies can be part of this legacy building project please contact us at sr@comunicad.com.