Davey Martinez won’t be able to walk up the dugout steps and stand on the field for today’s national anthem. After a follow-up procedure on his left ankle Tuesday, the Nationals manager remains in a cast and will again need to watch today’s game from a perch in the dugout (preferably in the shade on this hot and muggy afternoon).
Those who can see Martinez, though, surely will notice the special jersey he’s wearing, with the number 21 on the back in honor of Roberto Clemente.
For the second straight year, Major League Baseball is allowing players and other uniformed personnel of Puerto Rican descent to wear No. 21 jerseys on Roberto Clemente Day. Martinez, whose parents were born in Puerto Rico, also got permission for his entire coaching staff to wear the jersey as well.
“Obviously, you guys know how I feel about Roberto Clemente. It means the world to me to represent someone like him,” Martinez said during his pregame Zoom session with reporters. “Not only as a player, but as a humanitarian. Growing up, he was my idol. He was always talked about in our household, what he did not only on the field but off the field. It actually reminds me of who I need to be every day. I will cherish wearing that number.”
Martinez, who grew up in New York watching the tail end of Clemente’s career with the Pirates before his tragic death on New Year’s Eve 1972, has long sought to educate the next generation of Latino ballplayers about the Hall of Fame right fielder and humanitarian. He took a group of Nationals players to the Roberto Clemente Museum in Pittsburgh last week while the Nationals were in town playing the Pirates.
“I think it’s important for them to learn the history,” he said. “He was a Latin player back when things weren’t that good. The battles he had to fight, I think it’s important for them to understand that and what it meant for him to play the game and what it means for each individual now to represent and play the game.
“I got great feedback from our young guys, especially our Latin guys that went. They loved it. They enjoyed it. They couldn’t believe all the stuff that Roberto has done in a short period of time in his life.”
MLB has helped keep Clemente’s legacy alive with its annual day in his honor, and the award in his name that is presented each fall to the player who “best represents the game of baseball through extraordinary character, community involvement, philanthropy and positive contributions, both on and off the field.” (Max Scherzer is the Nationals’ nominee this year, even though he was traded to the Dodgers on July 30.)
“I think it’s important because for us Latin players and coaches, he represents a lot more than just the baseball part of it. He represents what we view as life as a person,” Martinez said of MLB’s efforts to honor Clemente. “People don’t realize it, but this guy served time in the military, too. For us growing up, he was the guy. My dad always talks about him being, for Latin players, the baseball god of Latin players. I think it’s important that we recognize that.”