Clemente’s son decries cancellation of Pirates series in Puerto Rico
The son of Hall of Fame outfielder Roberto Clemente wants to meet with Major League Baseball officials to discuss what prompted the cancellation of a highly anticipated series in Puerto Rico between the Pirates and the Miami Marlins.
“We are very disillusioned over the decision,” Luis Clemente, 49, told the Tribune-Review from Puerto Rico on Friday. “We need to have a conversation to fully understand what happened.”
In an interview in Spanish, Clemente said that his mother, Vera, and two brothers, share in the disappointment. They had looked forward to the games, which coincide with a league-wide celebration of Roberto Clemente Day on May 31.
MLB officials announced the cancellation Friday, citing worries over the mosquito-borne Zika virus. While Puerto Rico has been hard hit by the virus, Clemente said island natives are used to dealing with mosquitoes, and health officials have taken precautions to ensure visitors aren’t in harm’s way.
“This is not Ebola we’re dealing with,” he said. “We are not living in panic.”
Clemente said Zika worries likely began with players’ wives who might be considering starting a family. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has linked the virus to severe birth defects, including a condition that causes infants to have small heads.
“We understand why it could be a worry for the wives, but it’s still a big blow,” he said.
In some respects, Clemente finds the fear of illness unfounded because the island recently hosted 10 college baseball teams who played for nine days. He said none of the 1,500 visitors worried about Zika, and – to his knowledge – no one got sick. He has spoken to parents of players who told him they want to go back to the island.
Puerto Rico, where the late Pirates batter was born in 1934, is in the midst of an acute financial crisis. The island, a U.S. territory with nearly 4 million residents, has struggled under the weight of more than $70 billion in debt that government officials say it cannot pay.
“This will cause enormous damage to our economy,” Clemente said. “The island was really counting on the support of Major League Baseball and the Pirates.”
Roberto Clemente was killed on New Year’s Eve 1972 in a plane crash. He and others were on a mission to deliver supplies to earthquake-ravaged Nicaragua.
The Clemente family regularly participates in Pirates-related events, and Luis Clemente said he expects his relationship with the team to continue.
“I was born being part of the Pirates, and we’ve always had a solid relationship,” he said.”But as a Puerto Rican who lives in Puerto Rico, I can tell you there’s great disgust over what has transpired, and I can understand it.”