It was December 31, 1972. I was 9, and heard the news of Roberto Clemente's death over the radio first, and then over the TV shortly thereafter.
Roberto was my favorite player, on my favorite team, the Pittsburgh Pirates. They had won the World Series the year before, in 1971, and I knew Roberto was a great man who loved his homeland, Puerto Rico. He was a very giving man, and organized a earthquake relief effort for Managua, Nicaragua. Because of the incidences of corruption in that country that affected previous donations of support for the earthquake victims, Roberto insisted on taking the ill-fated flight himself. He was revered in what was know than as "Latin America", and knew that no one would interfere with the shipment of relief goods if he was there, personally, to deliver them.
Roberto's plane went down less than a mile after take-off from Puerto Rico, during a storm. People in his homeland were distraught when they heard the news, and flocked to the shoreline to see if they could do anything to save Roberto. Debris from the plane crash began washing up on the beach, but Roberto's body was never recovered. His wife and children were devastated, as were his teammates and the city of Pittsburgh. They have since honored Roberto's memory with a humanitarian award, and the naming of the bridge that leads to the new PNC Park stadium in Pittsburgh after him.
This happened over 40 years ago, but in my mind, it is as vivid as though it was yesterday. Roberto was a great but misunderstood baseball player, but even more than his greatness on the field, he was a generous, driven man who stood up personally when he felt an action should be taken.
I look at the professional athletes of today, and wonder: Who among them would stand up and emulate Roberto, if the situation arose?
-- Marc D. Shapiroo