The major league all-star game was held in Pittsburgh tonight and fittingly, Roberto Clemente was honored. Clemente, one of my boyhood heroes, played for the Pirates from the mid 50's until 1972. He died in a plane crash on New Year's Eve, 1972 while taking supplies to the victims of an earthquake in Nicaragua. Clemente was a great player, a hero both on and off the field. He was known for playing the game of baseball with a great passion that could only be matched by his unrelenting commitment to making a difference in the lives of those in need.
I grew up a Pirates fan and remember countless nights lying in bed listening to Bob Prince and Nellie King announce the Pirate games on the radio. My favorites were Clemente, Bill Mazeroski (who escorted Vera Clemente onto the field to receive tonight's award), and Willie Stargell. I was 14 when Clemente died, and will always remember the moment when I learned of his death. I had a paper route at that time, and had decided to deliver the New Year's Day papers before I went to bed so I wouldn't have to get up early to deliver them the next morning. The truck dropped off my bundle of papers around 1 am and there was the headline: Clemente Plane Missing. The next day the news was confirmed; we had lost a hero.
In 1973 baseball began awarding the annual Roberto Clemente award to the player who best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and the individual's contribution to his team. Tonight baseball remembered a true hero.