NUMBER 21 IS MORE THAN JUST A NUMBER FOR HAWKINS • Latino Sports

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NUMBER 21 IS MORE THAN JUST A NUMBER FOR HAWKINS

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“I was born on December 21, 1972 and then the great Roberto Clemente dies on a plane crash 10 days after I was born,” The significance of those dates were enough to inspire LaTroy Hawkins, the New York Yankees relief pitcher to always like #21. Unfortunately, that was not the end of the story. El Bronx, NY: “I was born on December 21, 1972 and then the great Roberto Clemente dies on a plane crash 10 days after I was born,” The significance of those dates were enough to inspire LaTroy Hawkins, the New York Yankees relief pitcher to always like #21. Later in life LaTroy learned more about Clemente and liked the number even more. Thus when he was offered the number in spring training he was more than proud to wear the jersey representing his idol, Roberto Clemente #21.

Unfortunately that is not the end of the story. Apparently some “rumors” were circulating that LaTroy should not have taken the #21, not because of Clemente, or the campaign to retire #21, but because of the last Yankee to wear the number, retired Yankee outfielder, Paul O’Neil. Now I am a little confused here? Why would anyone have a problem with any player wearing a number that is not yet retired by the team? And why would anyone (except a few fanatical fans) have an issue with Hawkins wearing #21 because the last person to wear it was Paul O’Neil?

Paul O’Neil was a good Yankee player that reminded all of us of the raw emotions of the game. Watching the intensity of O’Neil and his desire to win was contagious. We all liked Paul for his style of giving it all for the game and not being afraid of showing when he was pissed because of an error, or a bad call. His temper for the game was a matchstick that sometimes fired up the team. However, that was then and today is now. Paul is no longer playing and his number is up for grabs.

What is interesting and perhaps many fans and other players did not know is that O’Neil also wore # 21 with pride because of Clemente. In an exclusive interview with Latino Sports several years ago he told us that when he was first given the number he thought nothing of it, “it was just a number,” he stated. However, after learning that it was also the number that Roberto Clemente wore, he valued the number more and as he stated, “I continued wearing it throughout my career in recognition of him (Clemente).

The fact that a young African-American player, one of the meager 8.2% that are playing in the big leagues (according to the recent study done by the Professor, Richard Lapchic of the Center for Sports & Humanity) decides to wear #21 to honor Clemente is something that should be applauded not heckled. In fact, I personally don’t know whom these hecklers and players were because from where I sit (or better yet live, up the street from the stadium) Hawkins was receiving quite a bit of praise from the community for wearing # 21 in honor of Clemente. Let’s be real here, Paul O’Neil is Paul O’Neil and Roberto Clemente was the Great One!

The fact that the community surrounding the stadium is predominantly Puerto Rican, Dominican and African-American (in that order) might have a lot to do with why Hawkins would not be heckled, but admired for wearing #21 by these Yankee fans. The fact that Hawkins also supports the movement to retire #21 and does it proudly by displaying a “Retire 21” sticker on his locker is a greater testament for the support that he has from a larger number of fans that unfortunately do not need to heckle the hecklers to show that they are indeed the majority.

Latroy Hawkins is a player that has deep convictions, something that is refreshing to see in a professional athlete, something that reminds of us of players like Clemente who was never afraid to say what, or do what he believed. On Tuesday April 15th Major League Baseball recognized the anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier. Many teams did so by wearing Jackie Robinson’s #42. Latroy Hawkins, an African-American who respects Jackie Robinson and is proud of his heritage could have worn #42 for that one day, but on this day Latroy Hawkins decided to wear # 21 one last time to honor Roberto Clemente. He did it to put this silly issue behind him and focus on baseball in pinstripes wearing his new #22 signifying Clemente’s #21 plus 1.

About Julio Pabón

Julio is President and Founder of Latino Sports LLC., the parent company of Latinosports.com. Julio is a product of the South Bronx where he still lives and runs his businesses. Julio has written and has been interviewed for numerous publication and networks on sports & political issues. He has been an activist promoting social justice and respect for all communities. He is a recognized motivational speaker, was an adjunct professor of American History and presently volunteer's as a lecturer in local South Bronx High Schools. His primary goal is to make Latinosports.com a multi-facet sports portal that will engender social and economic empowerment to the Latino community.