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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 highlights the contributions of Americans of Spanish and Latin heritage. On Friday, Pittsburgh baseball fans honored the city's most popular Hispanic hero, Roberto Clemente.

Born in Puerto Rico, the baseball legend played for the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1954 until his death in 1972. Off the field, Clemente was known for helping others. The Roberto Clemente Day of Giving, hosted by the Pittsburgh Pirates on September 18, celebrated Roberto's gifts to the world.

A Celebration of Giving Back

When Roberto died in a plane crash in 1972, he was on his way to help earthquake victims in Nicaragua, a country in Central America. His commitment to helping people still inspires others today. That's why his team started the "Day of Giving" in his honor.

The Pirates used the day to encourage fans to support local charities. Clothing and food were collected for people in need. Fans bought raffle tickets to support the team's own charity fund.

Players who had served the community received awards. In Clemente's memory, the Pirates and players on Pittsburgh's Minor League teams each complete at least 10 hours of volunteer work. That means more than 250 baseball players are volunteering their skills this year!

Home Run for Hispanic Heritage

As a child, Roberto was a gifted baseball player and a big fan of the sport. While still in high school, he began to play for Puerto Rico's amateur, or nonprofessional, league.

In 1954, he was drafted into the Major League and joined the Pittsburgh Pirates. He stayed with the team for the rest of his life.

Early in his career, Clemente was among many Hispanic athletes who had to deal with racism. At games, fans sometimes yelled racist insults at him—and so did some of his teammates. But he brushed it off. "I don't believe in color," Clemente once told reporters.

In time, Clemente became one of the sport's brightest 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, and the World Series MVP award, in 1971.

Outside the game, Roberto spent time supporting Pittsburgh charities. After growing up in a large family without much money, he wanted to give back.

After his death in 1972, Roberto became the first Hispanic American to be voted into Major League Baseball's Hall of Fame. Although his career and life were cut short, Clemente helped change American attitudes about Hispanics in professional sports—on and off the field.

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