PITTSBURGH – A group of more than two dozen Red Sox players, coaches, and support staff made a pilgrimage on Wednesday morning to the Clemente Museum, paying homage to Roberto Clemente.
Field trips for baseball teams are a rarity. Mid-series sightseeing is almost unheard of, with players trying to rest between games. But the chance to gain insight into a baseball luminary who spent his big league career in Pittsburgh proved too tantalizing for members of the Red Sox to ignore, and so the team organized a bus trip to take a visit.
“[Manager Alex Cora] asked me and I was like, ‘I’m not going to pass on the opportunity,’” said Kiké Hernández.
Those in attendance marveled at a baseball legend whose legacy as a player and humanitarian endures 50 years after his tragic death at the age of 38 on New Year’s Eve 1972, when he died in a plane crash while trying to deliver supplies from Puerto Rico to Nicaragua after an earthquake.
“We’re all baseball rats. We love this game. There’s a reason we show up here at [1 p.m.] and we stay here till midnight. It’s not only because it’s our job, but we love the game,” said Cora. “To be able to go to this kind of venue, it’s always cool. It puts everything in perspective.”
The visit afforded members of the team insight into Clemente’s extraordinary playing career (the museum currently has a special exhibition dedicated to his 3,000th career hit, notched on Sept. 30, 1972), the humanitarian mission that defined him, his iconic role as a Latin player (“He was so proud of his roots: ‘It’s not Bob Clemente, it’s Roberto Clemente,’” noted Cora), his time as a reservist in the Marine Corps, his far-reaching involvement in baseball in Puerto Rico, and the plane crash that took his life.
“It gives you perspective. Tomorrow’s not promised,” said Sox second baseman Trevor Story. “The legacy and the way he and his family lived was the thing that stuck out the most – who he was off the field.
“We all know how good he was on the field but just the humanitarian that he was, it just seems like the way he did it was so pure. He just had a special place in his heart for helping people. That’s something I think we can all strive to be like. That’s something that I can hopefully take a little bit of. He did it on the grandest scale but I think we can all try to be a little more like that.”
In recent years, there has been a movement to honor Clemente by retiring his No. 21 across the big leagues. As much as Cora respected that idea, however, he suggested that an even more meaningful way to honor Clemente would be to work to advance the causes that meant so much to him.
Cora noted that Roberto Clemente Sports City — a venue developed in pursuit of Clemente’s vision of providing both sports and educational opportunities for Puerto Rican youth — has fallen into disrepair, recently being reclaimed by the Puerto Rican government. He expressed hope that the 50th anniversary of Clemente’s last big league milestone could mobilize efforts to rekindle the player’s vision.
“I love the movement to retire 21, but what are we doing to keep the legacy back home? [Sports City] was his dream. His dream was to help the youth from Puerto Rico,” said Cora, whose upbringing in Puerto Rico included a detailed education in Clemente’s life and legacy. “Some of us are a product of that. We played there. It was a great, great place. And now it’s just a bunch of trees and there’s nothing there. So we have to do a better job. I don’t think we have done enough to keep the legacy going.”