Sometime on New Year’s Eve, Tom Walker and his wife of 48 years, Carolyn, will be at their home in Pine Township to toast to Roberto Clemente, the man Walker says saved his life half a century ago.
Walker, 74, said of Clemente:
Walker was one of the last people to see the Pittsburgh Pirates legend alive.
On December 31, 1972, 50 years ago today, Walker helped load the Douglas DC-7 with relief supplies in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Supplies were destined for Nicaragua, but a few days ago an earthquake shook the capital city of Managua, killing 10,000 people, injuring 20,000 and leaving 300,000 homeless.
When Clemente learned of the tragedy, he immediately took action. From November 1972 until early December he stayed in Nicaragua for three weeks and managed Puerto Rico’s national team in his series of Amateur Worlds.
The New Year’s Eve relief flight was the fourth flight Clemente helped organize. It was also the first one he did. He told people he wanted to go directly to Nicaragua to make sure relief supplies reached those in need. There were reports of government corruption and diversion of supplies by military personnel.
Walker, then a 24-year-old pitcher in Puerto Rico’s Winter League, was finishing his rookie season in the major leagues and asked Clemente if he could join the relief flight. Clemente said no.
“Thomas, it’s New Year’s Eve. Let’s go to the party, Gringo,” Walker recalled Clemente saying, along with the word “trulla.”
Walker went to a water fountain in the Condado section of San Juan. Clemente stepped into immortality.
The overloaded plane carrying Clemente and four other men crashed into the Atlantic shortly after takeoff. His body was never found.
Clemente has established himself as one of the greatest players in baseball history. During his final 1972 season, Clemente became his 10th player and the first Latino player in his league history to record at least 3,000 hits in his career. He also won his 12th consecutive Gold Glove Award as the National League’s best defensive right fielder.
Many knew nothing about his humanitarian side, but they liked Clemente better.
Throughout his 18-year Pirates career, Clemente was a frequent visitor to what is now known as Pittsburgh’s UPMC Children’s Hospital, according to Duane Rieder, executive director of the Clemente Museum in Pittsburgh’s Lawrenceville neighborhood. . He told hospital officials that if the news media he was visiting were warned, he would never return.
“He was always doing things for the right reasons, not for money or attention,” Reeder said. “For Roberto, it was never about him.”
Clemente’s tragic death while trying to help suffering people in other countries revealed his humanitarian side to the world.
“The Man Upstairs will ensure that Roberto is finally known and recognized not only as one of the best players to have played this game, but as one of the greatest human beings to ever walk. I’m sure Roberto wanted to get off that road for the Earth,” said Al Oliver, 76, Clemente’s former teammate.
“His legacy is stronger than ever”
Clemente’s family gave him the nickname Momen because as a boy he would often say “momentito, momentito” or “wait a minute” whenever he got a call or was asked to do something. was attached.
But he never hesitated to make a difference or help those in need.
“At the age of 11, he raised money to build a fence to protect his school (Dr. Clemente Fernandez) from the road. Around that time, one day, out on the road, I saw a burning car, as Dariana Muratti wrote in her book Roberto Clemente Is: Momen.
“It’s our nature. We breathe life into giving, helping, and making sure we do the right thing for our neighbors.”
Fifty years ago today, the world lost a man many considered a hero, but the late Vera Clemente, then 31, lost her husband. Three boys lost their father. For some reason, it’s often overlooked, Clemente Jr. said.
“People are often consumed by their own feelings about what Roberto Clemente meant to them,” he said.
“Every year leading up to New Year’s Eve there are different emotions,” said Clemente Jr., 57, of South Hills. “I always feel a sense of respect and admiration from people. As a child, I found myself comforting strangers.
“Personally, this is my father. This is my father. This is my guardian who died when I was seven. I missed him at many stages of my life.” I truly feel he was taken away too soon, but the outpouring of love for my father at this stage in my life makes me realize that 50 years later his legacy is stronger than ever. I believe his destiny was to go the way he did.”
As evidence of the enduring power of Clemente’s legacy, one can see the Clemente Museum in Lawrenceville. Rieder said he had more than 15,000 visitors this year, about three times more than usual.
“I think it has more to do with Roberto’s character as a human being than as a player,” Rieder said. “His legacy resonates today, especially in this day and age, because for many it seems there isn’t enough goodness in the world. Roberto and during his short time on Earth I think seeing what they’ve done in 2019 gives us all hope that there is something good in the world.”
For surviving Clementes, continuing life after the crash meant continuing Roberto Clemente’s humanitarian legacy.
Soon after Clemente’s death, his wife took up the cloak to try to fulfill one of her husband’s long-held dreams. Roberto he Clemente dreamed of creating a place called Sports City (Ciudad de Portiva in Spanish). Using sports as a vehicle to empower Puerto Rican children, especially those who come from broken and poor families. The sports complex in Clemente’s hometown of Carolina would go on to serve more than a million children in the years that followed.
The foundation set up to operate the complex has grown to serve children and families in Puerto Rico, the United States and beyond. Hurricane Ian in September, according to Clemente Jr. In the aftermath of , the foundation was mobilized to feed thousands of Puerto Rican families in the afternoon and provide free baseball clinics for children in the evening.
Tom and Carolyn Walker will continue their annual New Year’s Eve tradition honoring Roberto Clemente this year, but Clemente Jr. said one of his traditions is at a loss. Flight this holiday season.
Clemente Jr. said he and his family were due to fly southwest to Puerto Rico on Wednesday, but the flight is one of many that have been cancelled. Clemente Jr. said he would miss the foundation’s annual golf excursion fundraiser and the annual family pilgrimage to his site, the beach closest to where Clemente’s plane crashed.
“Pittsburgh was such a special place for my dad, so I think God told us to stay in Pittsburgh,” Clemente Jr. said.
Clemente Jr. said he and his family plan to go to the statue honoring his father outside PNC Park at noon today, place a memorial near the statue and offer a moment of silence. . Candles are lit around the statue in the evening.
“It was supposed to happen.”
Tom Fontaine is Tribune-Review’s Digital News Editor. He can be reached by Tom by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on his Twitter. .