When Wil Nieves was a youngster playing baseball in Roberto Clemente Sports City, he knew exactly what number he wanted to wear in tribute to his favorite player and his country's hero. Nieves grew up hearing about Clemente and his many accomplishments, but in that small town on the outskirts of San Juan, Nieves realized that Clemente was so much more than a great athlete.
"People loved him because he was a great player and a great person," Nieves said. "We need to learn from him how to give to other people."
On Wednesday, Major League Baseball honors the life and legacy of Roberto Clemente, one of the game's best hitters and greatest humanitarians. A Pittsburgh Pirate throughout his 18-year career, Clemente was the National League Batting Champion four times, the National League MVP in 1966 and the MVP of the 1971 World Series. He also earned 12 Gold Gloves.
Just months after collecting his 3,000th hit, Clemente died in a plane crash while delivering disaster relief supplies to Nicaragua. He was immediately voted into the Hall of Fame, the first Hispanic player ever elected to the shrine.
"What can I say, everybody knows he's the greatest," Nationals pitcher Luis Atilano said, boasting with pride. "I think he's also a key role model for all Puerto Ricans and maybe all professional players to follow."
Ivan Rodriguez, another icon of Puerto Rico, said that in his country, it's pretty simple: "Roberto Clemente is our hero."
Rodriguez learned about Clemente's career and character from his own father, a man who hoped to instill those same qualities in his son.
"He was a great person. He did a lot of things in the community and that's why everybody respects him so much, [because of] the things that he did on and off the field," Rodriguez said.
Nieves, Rodriguez and Atilano are excited about Major League Baseball's annual celebration of Clemente's legacy and Puerto Rican baseball history. Most importantly, each of them try to remember to use their gifts to serve the community and give back to those in less fortunate situations, just like Clemente did throughout his life.
"It's an honor to be Puerto Rican like him and to remember him for the good things that he did," Nieves said.