Players hold Roberto Clemente Award in highest regard
PITTSBURGH — Roberto Clemente’s entire family was on hand for Roberto Clemente Day festivities on temperate Wednesday night at PNC Park in Pittsburgh. It was Roberto Clemente day at every ballpark on the Major League schedule but since its inception in 2002, it’s always meant something more here in Pittsburgh where Clemente is regarded more as a deity than a mere mortal. Clemente’s number 21 was cut into the right field grass by the grounds crew, just in front of the 21-foot right field wall that bears his retired number four times along the top of the out-of-town scoreboard. In a pre-game ceremony, Clemente’s widow Vera and her sons, Roberto Jr, Ricky and Luis all clad in No. 21 Pirates jerseys presented a framed Clemente jersey to the Pirates 2014 Clemente Award nominee Charlie Morton.
Though there are no statistical criteria for Major League Baseball’s Roberto Clemente Award, it has become one of baseball’s most revered honors since its inception in 1973. The award is presented annually “to the player who demonstrates the values Clemente displayed in his commitment to community and understanding the value of helping others.”
Originally known as the Commissioner’s Award when created in 1971, it was renamed in Clemente’s honor following his death in an airplane crash while attempting to fly relief supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua on New Year’s Eve 1972. Most baseball fans who are aware of Clemente’s fascinating life story and career as a pioneering Latin American player are also familiar with his tragic demise, which can be seen as the ultimate example of Clemente’s selfless humanitarian behavior and a defining element in the creation of the Roberto Clemente Award. However, his wife Vera says he lived every day of his life the same way.