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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 | null null , null
(Map: Jim McMahon)
(Map: Jim McMahon)

Each year from September 15 to October 15, Hispanic Heritage Month celebrates the contributions of Americans of Spanish and Latin heritage. On Friday, Pittsburgh baseball fans paid special tribute to the city's most popular Hispanic hero, Roberto Clemente.

A native of Puerto Rico, the baseball legend played for the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1954 until his death in 1972. Off the field, Clemente was known for his commitment to 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 deliver supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua. His commitment to charity and volunteer work continues to inspire others today. That's why his team started the "Day of Giving" in his honor.

The Pirates used the day to introduce people in their community to local charities. Clothing and food were collected for people in need, and raffle tickets were sold to support the team's own charity fund.

Team players who had served the community received awards. In Clemente's memory, the Pirates and players on Pittsburgh's Minor League teams now complete at least 10 hours of volunteer work as part of the Pirates Community Commitment Program. With more than 250 baseball players volunteering their skills this year, that's a winning hit for community service!

Home Run for Hispanic Heritage

As a child, Roberto was a gifted player and a big fan of baseball. His years of practice paid off. He was recruited for Puerto Rico's amateur league while still in high school.

In 1954, he was drafted into the Major League and joined the Pittsburgh Pirates. He moved to Pennsylvania and stayed with the same team for almost 20 years.

Early in his career, Clemente was among many Hispanic athletes who had to cope 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 most celebrated stars. He was the first Hispanic American to earn a World Series ring as a starting player in 1960, to win the Most Valuable Player (MVP) award in 1966, and the World Series MVP award, in 1971. Outside the game, Clemente spent his time helping at Pittsburgh's charities. After growing up with a large family and not a lot of money, he felt lucky to be able to give back when he could.

After his death in 1972, Clemente was honored as 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.

A Family Tradition

Before he died, Clemente planned to build a sports center for kids near his boyhood home in Puerto Rico. He wanted to create a place where kids could learn how to play sports and how to become good citizens.

Years later, his wife, Vera, made his dream come true. Now more than 100,000 kids visit the Roberto Clemente Sports City each year.

The couple's eldest son, Roberto Clemente Jr., runs the Roberto Clemente Foundation. The organization's mission is to help make athletic and education programs available to many people.

Reporters often asked Roberto Sr. about his successes, and he once responded, "Why does everyone talk about the past? All that counts is tomorrow's game." He always focused on the next win. Today, his family and teammates are still winning by giving back in his honor.


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