Roberto Clemente was born on August 18, 1934 in Carolina, Puerto Rico. He was the fifth of five children, and at the time, work was very hard to come by in Puerto Rico. His father worked in the sugarcane fields as a foreman, and Roberto Clemente’s life was shaped by these simple beginnings.
When baseball came to Puerto Rico, it was a major hit. Cubans and Puerto Ricans who had been educated in the United States brought home baseball, and by 1938, there were semi-professional leagues forming. With the warm climates in the Caribbean, leagues appeared where players would move from location to location in Latin America, playing wherever the season was in session, year round.
In 1947, the New York Yankees went to Puerto Rico to play an exhibition game with the Ponce Leones, and the champion Yankees lost! Puerto Rican players were now recognized as excellent, and scouts looked for talent on the island. It was especially excellent for the teams since the players would work for less.
In 1951, Clemente was signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates, stealing him away from Brooklyn. Unfamiliar with the racial politics of the time period and not yet an excellent English speaker, he had a difficult time at first. He immediately began to stand up for the rights of minority players, but the press was unforgiving. They made fun of him, quoting him phonetically to emphasize his accent. They could not, however, deny his talent.
In his eighteen seasons as a Pittsburgh Pirate, he had a lifetime batting average of .317, with four 200-hit seasons and he led the National League in hits twice. In a single game, he had three triples. He was fast on his feet, and he paid close attention to his hitting and defense. He could throw the balls extremely fast as well. From right field, he could rip balls across the field with extreme accuracy and speed.
Under the direction of his wife, Vera, he built the Sports City in his hometown of Caroline. It provides a place for Puerto Rican youth to develop the same athletic skills that made him a star.
He also worked to save the citizens of Managua, Nicaragua,, when they were devastated by a major earthquake. Having played across Latin America in his youth, he know many people from the area and took a strong interest in bringing relief to those affected. It would be on a relief mission that he would die in a tragic plane accident. A DC-7 he boarded with relief supplies was overloaded and crashed.
In the wake of that time, Pittsburgh declared a Roberto Clemente Memorial Week. Today, the Three Sisters Bridge leading up to PNC Park is named after him, and he has a statue in front of the park. As a character in Pittsburgh history, his love for his home, his game, and his tireless support of those in need earned him a lasting reputation as one of the best athletes in Pittsburgh history.