Clemente keeping his father’s legacy alive
Roberto Clemente Jr. recently moved from New York to Pittsburgh, but he needs no introduction to long-time Pirates fans.
He carries the name of a father forever linked to some of the greatest moments in Pirates’ World Series history.
However, Roberto Jr. became determined at a young age to make a name, a career and a life for himself.
Born Aug. 17, 1965 in Puerto Rico, Roberto Jr. spent the first seven years of his life traveling between his home and Pittsburgh’s Forbes Field and Three Rivers Stadium.
Tragedy struck the Clemente family, Pittsburgh, and all of baseball, when his father died in a crash Dec. 31, 1972, on a plane overloaded with relief items for Nicaraguan earthquake victims.
Inspired by his father — and sometimes burdened by his legacy — Roberto Jr. set out on a professional baseball career with the Philadelphia Phillies, San Diego Padres and Baltimore Orioles before suffering a career-ending back injury in 1989.
During the past two decades, he has been involved in a wide range of projects and job paths, including three years as New York Yankees Spanish television and radio broadcaster, starting in 1996. He also has been active raising funds for the Ciudad Roberto Clemente, a sports complex in Carolina, Puerto Rico, which his mother, Vera, also supports.
Roberto Jr. currently hosts a sports call-in radio show, “The Clemente Bridge,” from 3-4 p.m. on WPGB-FM (104.7) every Saturday.
Clemente Jr. talked to the Tribune-Review following a motivational speech delivered to Westminster College athletes in New Wilmington last week.
Q: What’s it like to have a father who’s been described as baseball’s last hero?
Answer: It was amazing that a baseball player touched so many lives. It wasn’t because of baseball, it was because of him being the human being that he was. For me to lose him at a very young age was very tough. He never stopped helping others. He left us at 38. I never cried. I couldn’t cry. People say he was my hero, but he was my father, someone I looked up to. We were friends for a very short period of time.
Q: You revealed in your speech to Westminster College athletes that when you were 13, you asked your mother to change your name from Roberto to Pedro. Can you explain why?
A: It was overwhelming. After the accident, many things happened to me. I’ve gone though a lot. At age 13, I needed an identity. That’s an age where you find yourself. And I had celebrities, very important people, powerful people, crying in front of me, and more than 90 percent of the time, they never asked how I was. They just came to me and they spilled their emotions, but nothing to do with me. I was part of him. I am Junior, yes. But they are talking to me like they’re talking to him. They don’t see me, they see him. So, in many ways, there is a lot of attention, but there’s no attention toward me. They needed to touch him through me. So, I have been just a channel to connect them.
Q: You’ve grown up and many years have gone past. How do you feel about your father’s legacy now?
A: It’s part my life, the legacy, it’s part of who I am and who we are as a family. Now, I am very proud. I’m very proud that people are still interested in showing the love, admiration and respect they have toward dad. I’m very proud, absolutely. I was upset growing up that the fact was no one cared, no one even asked me how I was. That was the part that really shocked me. OK, you’re talking to me, but you don’t even know who I am. If you want to cry, you cry. I have had to console so many people, that when I look back, it has been a blessing. It’s part of my life. Part of who I have become. I take it with open arms. Thirty-five years later, people still remember him. It’s part of my mission in life to talk to people and kids and be able to help them make the right decisions.
Q: Do you feel you’ve established your own identity?
A: Dad not only left me a great name, he left me an impossible task. But what my father gave me was the ability to open doors. His legacy has been with me. I don’t do things because of him. I do things because that’s what I carry and that’s what I feel.
Q: Can you describe your relationship with the Pirates organization?
A: I love the Pirates. To be there in a romantic era of baseball, and to be part of a family like the Pittsburgh Pirates, it was truly wonderful. I remember running around in the clubhouse. Every teammate of my father was my uncle. Omar Moreno and Sangy (Manny Sanguillen) used to pick me up. I didn’t see my father as a player, I saw him as part of a family. The family was wonderful. There was nothing bad about being a Pittsburgh Pirate and being part of this organization.
Q: Is baseball more of a cold, hard business now?
A: Very true, but I’ll tell you what, if you look back and go back so many years, every Pirates team that has won, if you go into the core of the formula why they won, it was because they were united, it was because they were a family. They were a team, and they really liked each other, they enjoyed each other. I know what it takes. It’s funny. It’s very different today. But I think that this team right now has a chance to be better than any other team in the last 14 years. There’s something, something that needs to happen.
Q: Your family’s relationship with the current Pirates’ management is then, whatâ¢ Complicated?
A: There’s not an easy answer. We were a lot closer when we had our home here. Mom sold the house. We are in Puerto Rico now. Times have changed. I believe the Pirates have a little way to go when it comes to dealing with ex-players, family and fans. They’re doing a good job, but I believe they could do better.”
Q: What is the latest concerning the Clemente Museum in Lawrenceville?
A: I took (St. Louis Cardinals first baseman) Albert Pujols there the other day, and he said, ‘This has got to open.’ We’re trying to get a couple of final sponsors. I would love to be open by June. That would give us time to get the ’72 (Dodge) Charger here, which my father won in the World Series.”