Roberto Clemente is well known for his achievements in baseball. As an outfielder for the Pittsburgh Pirates, he had 3,000 hits, a .317 batting average, and won 12 straight Gold Glove awards.
But on Thursday in a South End square, a special monument was unveiled that for the first time recognizes Clemente as a veteran, showing that his achievements reach far beyond the baseball diamond.
“This is a very special dedication because this is honoring Dad not for his baseball career . . . but for a very particular, special service to the Marines,” Clemente’s son, Luis, said after pulling off a tarp and revealing a bust of Clemente wearing a Pirates cap. “And this is quite an honor because this is a first.”
Roberto Clemente was killed in a 1972 plane crash while traveling to Nicaragua to aid in earthquake relief. In 1973, just months after his death, Clemente was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Clemente is considered one of the best Puerto Rican-born players in baseball history.
“Roberto was a humanitarian, a man of compassion, and a positive role model for people of all ages,” Mayor Martin J. Walsh said to a crowd of about 60. “He was dedicated to helping people right up to the end of his life, his last days. He loved his homeland of Puerto Rico, and as a Puerto Rican player in the major leagues here in America, he was symbol of progress and of hope.”
In November 2013, the square on Washington Street was dedicated to Puerto Rican veterans with a statue depicting one male and one female soldier.
Armando Rodriguez, 63, of Jamaica Plain, said he was thrilled to see the plaza continue to expand with monuments recognizing the contributions Puerto Rican veterans have made to the US military.
“I think it’s wonderful. It’s something that should have been done a long time ago,” Rodriguez said.
Many of Rodriguez’s relatives’ names are inscribed on the bricks of the Puerto Rican Veterans Monument plaza, including the names of his father, nephew, and two uncles.
“What they did with this place is wonderful,” Rodriguez said. “It’s the best thing they could have done.”
Carmen Rosado of Roxbury said, “I’m proud not because he’s Puerto Rican, but because he died doing good things for people.”
Rosado is the founder of a dance troupe called Roberto Clemente 21 Dancers, created in 2001. The group of young girls performs throughout New England and in New York, she said. After Luis Clemente unveiled the monument of his father, Rosado presented him with a framed photo of her dancers.
“In Puerto Rico [Roberto Clemente] is an icon,” said South End resident Petra Rojas, 51. “We are very proud of him.”
In the plaza, a cluster of about 20-third graders from the neighboring William Blackstone Elementary School chattered and danced in front of the statue.
“They have to learn it’s part of our culture, our history,” Rojas said. “Puerto Rico is part of the United States, and we have made our contribution.”Sarah Roberts can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @heysarahroberts