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roberto clemente Roberto Clemente, here in an undated photo, played for the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1954 until his death in 1972. (Major League Baseball Photos via Getty Images)

Roberto Clemente's Gifts From the Heart

Baseball great from Puerto Rico honored in Pittsburgh for his work off the field

By Zach Jones | September 21 , 2009
(Map: Jim McMahon)
(Map: Jim McMahon)

From September 15 to October 15, Hispanic Heritage Month celebrates Americans of Spanish and Latin background. On Friday, Pittsburgh baseball fans honored the city's most popular Hispanic hero, Roberto Clemente.

The baseball great was born in Puerto Rico. He played for the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1954 until his death in 1972. Off the field, Clemente was known for helping others. The Pirates held the Roberto Clemente Day of on September 18. The day celebrated the player's gifts to the world.

A Celebration of Giving Back

When Clemente died in a plane crash, he was on his way to help people. The plane was bringing supplies to victims of an earthquake in Central America. His belief in helping others still inspires people. That's why his team started the "Day of Giving."

The Pirates used the day to urge fans to support charities, or groups that help people. Clothing and food wwere collected for people in need. Fans bought raffle tickets to support the team's own charity fund.

Home Run for Hispanic Heritage

As a child, Roberto was a gifted baseball player. While still in high school, he began to play for Puerto Rico's amateur, or nonprofessional, league. In 1954, he joined the Pittsburgh Pirates. He stayed with the team for the rest of his life.

Clemente began his career at a time when many Hispanic athletes had to deal with racism. Fans sometimes yelled hurtful words at him because they did not like the color of his skin. But he brushed it off. "I don't believe in color," Clemente once told reporters.

In time, Clemente became one of baseball's most famous stars. He was the first Hispanic American to earn a World Series ring as a starting player, in 1960. He was also the first Hispanic player to win the Most Valuable Player (MVP) award, in 1966. Then in 1971, he became the first Hispanic player to win the World Series MVP award.

After his death, Roberto became the first Hispanic player to be voted into Major League Baseball's Hall of Fame. Clemente's career and life were sadly cut short. But during his life, he helped change American attitudes about Hispanics in professional sports—on and off the field.

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