By Ahmed Latif
From the gentle Caribbean shores of Puerto Rico to the highest echelon of sporting success in the Baseball Hall of Fame, that is the journey of Roberto Clemente.
He was, in my opinion, the greatest baseball player of all-time. He played for the Pittsburgh Pirates of the MLB in the US. He excelled in every possible way and dominated in every fathomable fashion. He could catch. He could run. He could hit. He could throw. He was a leader for his team; a World Series winner on a team that was consistently terrible before and after him. He paved new roads for Latinos in American baseball and society; he was the first Latino inducted in the Hall of Fame. They changed the Hall of Fame rules to let him in sooner than was allowed. But more than anything Clemente did on the field, it was his character that was most impressive. He was a genuine man of exemplary compassion and he acted with empathy for his fellow humans.
He gave so tirelessly and endlessly to charity. He even died in an aviation accident trying to get aid to earthquake ravaged Nicaragua in 1972. Rarely were those around him not smiling. He was brilliant to watch as a player; but he was also one of the first mega-stars in American sports. What drew millions to him was his generosity and warmth. He was a dedicated player with a social conscience and a profound understanding of social justice paired with an endearing compassion for the pains of ordinary people.
It is often cliché for the masses to list exceptional characteristics regarding their heroes; but their heroes were human too with faults and shortcomings. It isn’t that Clemente was a perfect person or without fault, it is that he carried his failures and scars with such grace. He was grander than anything or anyone baseball had ever seen. And baseball is a sport that possesses great wealth of characters, from Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio to Pete Rose and Jackie Robinson. Roberto Clemente is bigger than a hero, he is bigger than baseball, he is a treasure; a warm and compassionate athlete who tried to give as much as he got, possibly even more. Today the award in the MLB for sportsmanship and charity is known as the Roberto Clemente Award a fitting tribute to an absolute legend.