By Danny Torres
BROOKLYN – In 1954, there was a short-lived period where a 19-year-old from Carolina, Puerto Rico signed a professional contract with the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Now, think for a moment and just imagine this scenario.
The Brooklyn Dodgers already had on their roster a 6x All-Star infielder who won the 1947 Rookie of the Year and also happened to be the first Black ballplayer to play in Major League Baseball history during the modern era.
It would have been an unbelievable baseball pairing of two future Baseball Hall of Famers – Jackie Robinson and Roberto Clemente.
This would have made baseball historians hyperventilate at the sight of these extraordinary men as teammates.
Yet those same scholarly, baseball historians know exactly what happened next that same year when the Dodgers left Clemente unprotected in what would become the greatest Rule V Draft steal in big leagues history.
He would never set foot inside Ebbets Field wearing a Brooklyn Dodgers uniform but he would actually play for the Montreal Royals, the Dodgers AAA affiliate in Montreal, Quebec.
Interestingly, he would only have 155 plate appearances in the Dodgers organization and in 1955 would go to make his Major League debut with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
And the rest is history.
Sixty-five years later, Luis Roberto Clemente, 52, the middle son of Roberto, would step foot on the ballfield inside MCU Park in Brooklyn, the minor league home of the Brooklyn Cyclones, the New York Mets Single-A affiliate.
Not only would Clemente throw out the ceremonial first-pitch in the same borough where his father’s original organization played in for so many years but also his son was in attendance for a different reason.
Arriving from Puerto Rico, Luis would not only speak at a graduation at a Brooklyn middle school named after his legendary father, conduct a baseball clinic for children in Williamsburg with 1969 World Series champion Art Shamsky and 1970 Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Fred Cambria who was teammates with Luis’s dad but would also hear some pretty exciting news in Trenton, New Jersey.
A resolution was passed unanimously to officially recognize the hallowed site in Piñones, Puerto Rico where the accident occurred that led to the untimely death of his father on New Year’s Eve in 1972. This sacred spot will be added to the National Registry of Historic Places.
Although throngs of jubilant fans who were wearing Clemente jerseys, 21 T-shirts and even a few waving the Puerto Rican flag lined up outside to receive their Clemente bobblehead at MCU Park, Luis gathered with a special group of Clemente enthusiasts who were supporting the efforts of the Roberto Clemente Foundation.
Not only did Luis call his special guests “his teammates” but also on Facebook Live he said matter-of-factly they were now a part of his extended family.
“Everyone here are teammates. It’s what I’m calling you. You’re here for the same reason. You honor dad’s legacy and I want you to understand that to us, the importance you have in our lives, it goes beyond just being a fan. To us, you are family,” said Luis while filming a heartfelt message to his followers via Facebook Live.
He concluded, “A number of you have gone to our house in Puerto Rico. Once you go through those doors, you are family.”
SPECIAL THANKS: Prior to their “Subway Series” matchup against the Staten Island Yankees, the Brooklyn Cyclones, who for the entire weekend festivities, would be known as the Brooklyn Jefes – which translates to Bosses. Since 2018, MiLB celebrates “Copa de la Diversión” or a “Fun Cup” to celebrate the festive culture and values that many baseball fans witness throughout Latin-American communities. As part of this initiative, the Brooklyn Cyclones donated $2500 to the Roberto Clemente Foundation.
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