Major League Baseball’s recent Roberto Clemente Day tribute to the Puerto Rican icon stirred strong emotions for both fans and legends across the sport. The ceremony at Citi Field attracted many of baseball’s luminaries including Hall of Famer Iván Rodríguez, as well as 14 previous Roberto Clemente Award winners.
Rodríguez, who was born just a year before Clemente’s fatal plane crash, grew up idolizing the legendary Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder. He explained how deeply significant it was for him to have a part in honoring The Great One.
“It’s special for us, special for me, special for Puerto Rico, Latin America and all of the Latinos that play in this beautiful game,” Rodríguez said at Citi Field. “With him as our hero in Puerto Rico, what he did not only on the field, but the off the field things he did helping the community, it was unbelievable for us. The door he opened for me and a lot of Latinos and Puerto Rican players to play at this level is amazing.”
Many players benefited from Clemente’s trailblazing path, including former New York Yankees star Bernie Williams. Speaking at Yankee Stadium during Roberto Clemente Day, Williams said how Clemente’s tragic death impacted multiple generations.
“Roberto Clemente meant a lot to my generation and the generation before me,” Williams said. “He lost his life doing what everybody is called to do as a professional athlete, and that is to give back to the community in a moment of need. He paid the ultimate price for that. … For those things, Roberto is one of my greatest heroes I can think of in baseball.”
The Clemente Day 2022 celebration was so significant for Puerto Rico, governor Pedro Pierluisi flew in to join Rodriguez in New York to honor Clemente. The governor said how Clemente’s life, almost 50 years after his death, continues to be a standard for people everywhere to emulate.
“He represents us better than anybody else as to what Puerto Rico is all about,” Pierluisi said. “[He] is an incredible example of what Puerto Ricans can do for our nation at large and the world.”
The Clemente Day salute also resurfaced rumblings of Clemente’s number 21 being retired league wide. While Pierluisi said the retire 21 movement is fierce in Puerto Rico, Rodríguez feels it is urgent for 21 to be in the rafters at all MLB stadiums.
“Number 21 for us is the number we all respect,” Rodríguez said. “It’s a number we’ve all been waiting to be retired. I think it’s time just to put it in a beautiful place in the ballpark; it’s time to retire that number. I think all of us as Puerto Ricans will be happy when that happens.”