Bronx, NY—The 12th annual observance of the ‘”21 Days of Clemente” was held at Applebee’s at the Gateway Mall on 153rd Street during the month of December. The event is sponsored by Latino Sports Ventures, Inc. and the Retire 21 Campaign. The commemoration of Roberto Clemente’s life and untimely death in the service of others includes a display of memorabilia of his baseball exploits, writings and drawings submitted by local schoolchildren and lectures presented on each of three consecutive Monday evenings.
Clemente was a leader of the Pittsburgh Pirates for 18 seasons and was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, shortly after his death on December 31, 1972. His credentials on the field and his character rather than his passing led to his deserved inclusion in the HOF. The rightfielder was the winner of 12 Gold Gloves for his fielding prowess. He was no less effective at the plate, winning four National League batting titles and compiling a lifetime batting average of .317. His superior play and many accomplishments won him election to the NL All-Star team in 12 seasons.
While it may seem strange that even a player as great as Clemente, who played his entire MLB career in the uniform of the Pittsburgh Pirates, is annually honored in the Bronx, there is a reason. Julio Pabón, the executive director of both Latino Sports and the Retire 21 Committee explained, “Many people remember Clemente as a great baseball player and the first Latino in the Hall of Fame. However, Clemente represents a lot more to the Latino community and to many in the baseball community; thus, we want to make sure our youth understand that Clemente means more than just baseball.”
The final guest speaker on the last Monday symposium was Jim Robinson. The Negro League veteran was pinch hitting for Fred Cambria, a teammate of Clemente on the 1970 Pirates. Cambria, suffering with a severe case of the flu, was unable to travel to the Bronx for his scheduled appearance. Danny Torres, the coordinator and emcee of the yearly event in the Bronx, quickly arranged the excellent substitution after being informed by Cambria that he was ill.
Robinson, the 82 year-old featured speaker on December 17th is extremely personable, good humored, well-educated and articulate. Thus, he gave an informative and entertaining talk. He spoke of his introduction to the sport of baseball through his father who took him to ball games at the Polo Grounds by walking with him and his brothers from their home at 117th Street and Seventh Avenue to the ballfield at 155th Street and Eighth Avenue. There they watched his father’s beloved Giants as well as many Negro League games.
Interestingly, the first game in which Robinson played in the Negro Leagues was at Yankee Stadium. He explained to his much younger audience what it was like to play baseball during the age of segregation.
Robinson mentioned Clemente as one his Latino baseball favorites, which also include Chico Carrasquel, Juan Marichal and Orlando Cepeda. He recalled Hall of Famer Monte Irvin telling him how great a player Clemente was. He talked of meeting Clemente’s wife and three sons and stressed the great ballplayer’s devotion to his family above all else. He called Clemente “an all-around great human being.” After Robinson’s fine address, Torres said to him,”You hit a home run.”
The final speaker of the evening was the Bronx born poet Mariposa who recited a stirring poem that she wrote in honor of Clemente.
The symposium ended as always with everyone standing and offering a toast to Clemente with the traditional Puerto Rican holiday drink, Coquito.