“Peloteros por Puerto Rico” Goodwill Tour
A group of top current and former players from around the Caribbean and the United States converged on the island of Puerto Rico this weekend to honor the humanitarian spirit of Roberto Clemente with a goodwill tour dubbed “Peloteros por Puerto Rico.”
Among the participating players who planned to take part in the festivities were Sandy Alomar, Sr. and Jr. (PR), Jose Altuve (VZ), Chris Archer (USA), Javy Baez (PR), Rickey Bones (PR), Bobby Bonilla (USA), Alex Colome (DR), Jose Cruz, Jr. (PR), Francisco Lindor (PR), Dennis Martinez (NIC), Yadier Molina (PR), Oliver Perez (MEX); Jose Quintana (COL), Javier Vazquez (PR), Tom Walker (US) and Bernie Williams (PR).
In addition to several scheduled social events, the players shared their love of baseball with hundreds of kids who registered for two free clinics, one on Friday evening in Clemente’s hometown of Carolina and another on Saturday in Salinas.
“This is huge for the youth of Puerto Rico. Kids look up to us and us coming here gives them a chance to realize it’s not impossible to become a big-league player; that we’re not just people they see on TV. We are human. I was here with the same dream they probably have,” Lindor said after the clinic in Carolina. “I’m still living my dream and fulfilling it. I want these kids to say, “Yes, I can do it, too.”’
Puerto Rico, although struggling economically these days, has been a source of great baseball talent for decades going back to the days of Clemente and Orlando Cepeda, who were followed by a generation of players that included Williams, Delgado, Juan Gonzalez and Ivan Rodriguez.
Today’s stars from the island territory include veteran superstars Beltran and Molina as well as another new wave that in addition to Baez and Lindor also includes all-star Carlos Correa.
“It’s great having these current players and all the former players here to give back to the community and help make Puerto Rico relevant again,” said Williams, who helped lead the Yankees to six World Series during his 16-year career.
Clemente won an MVP Award, played for two World Series champions, earned 12 All-Star Game berths, received 12 Gold Glove Awards, won four batting titles and accumulated 3,000 hits, but his legacy was even bigger off the field.
For all of his accomplishments as a player, Clemente honored his role as a leader and a citizen of Puerto Rico even more than his performance as a professional baseball player. He wanted to be a player all Latin American players could try to emulate. He proudly and tirelessly devoted himself to community service wherever and whenever it was needed for schools, hospitals, and public health initiatives around the world.
"Always, they said Babe Ruth was the best there was,” he once offered. “They said you’d really have to be something to be like Babe Ruth. But Babe Ruth was an American player. What we needed was a Puerto Rican player they could say that about, someone to look up to and try to equal."
Clemente was able to accomplish just that by leading a full and exemplary life and setting an example for not just Puerto Rican kids, but kids from all across Latiin America and the United States who grew up wanting to emulate both his compassion and competitiveness.
“As kids we all wanted to grow up to be someone like Roberto Clemente,” Lindor said “Not exactly like Clemente because that would be impossible, but someone like him. Just have a little bit of him. He was a special person because of the legacy he left on and off the field.”
It was on a charitable mission on New Year’s Eve in 1972, just months after his 18th season with the Pittsburgh Pirates,that Clemente died tragically.
Clemente had arranged for flights to bring supplies to Managua, Nicaragua following a Dec. 23 earthquake, which had devastated the capital city. After learning that supplies from the first three flights hadn’t reached victims, he decided to accompany the fourth flight in hope that his presence would help ensure delivery of the supplies.
The Douglas DC-7 cargo plane, however, crashed into the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Isla Verde, Puerto Rico shortly after taking off.
Tom Walker, a tour participant and father of current New York Mets player, Neil Walker, was a Puerto Rico Winter League teammate of Clemente’s and helped load the plane. He was expected to speak at a gala event on Saturday night along with other honored guests.
“Clemente set the bar really high,” Williams said. “He was the player everyone wanted to emulate him. Not only because he was a great player with the Pittsburgh Pirates but because of all he did off the field. He passed away in the act of helping other people in Latin America. He was a very important part of our heritage as players here in Puerto Rico and across Latin America.”