Posted on: December 31, 2008 4:42 am
Edited on: December 31, 2008 6:20 am
When CBS Sports had their “Sports Appreciation Day”, CBS member Pittcontact had talked about getting his first baseball cards and how it grew into a passion, I was able to relate. As kids, we would cart the empty pop bottles (soda bottles for those who aren’t familiar with the terminology of pop bottles) down to the local store and with the money we received, bought comic bottles, candy and the packs of Topps bubble gum with the baseball cards. Pittcontact took me back to a time, in my mind where cards were either coveted, or used as attachments for bicycle spokes to make pretty cool clacking sounds as we road up and down the road. The day that blog took me back to many fond memories and I had determined to recreate my card collection.
On my last trip home, I had in hand two of the same baseball cards for my nephews. They were 1976 Topps Willie Stargell cards. My nephews, 16 and 11 are avid baseball fans and like I did when I was their age, collect baseball cards. They thought it was cool. As Josh would say, it was their first “old” card they had for their collection. They were impressed with Stargell’s career averages that were printed on the back of the card. If they were impressed with what he did in 76, wait until they get the one from 79 and 82 that I’m planning on picking up for them. Even more so, wait until they get the card of another player that I’m planning on picking up for them.
One wonders if the ARods and Jeeters of today will have the same lasting impact that the players of my day had, not just to their fans but also to baseball. Will their contributions inspire others from another generation to wear their number? Will they go on to be remembered twenty, thirty, even 50 years later as one of the greats, like Babe Ruth, Cy Young, Jackie Robinson? Will a young boy who idolizes Sammy Sosa, take the mound years from now wearing a 21 in honor of Sosa and understand why Sosa wore that number in the first place? While the MLB teams make there acquisitions and prepare for spring training, will there be one from this batch that will end up living forever in sports lore?
Thirty six years ago, I was a tom-boy of 11. That summer I would be in bicycle races with the neighbor boys, build forts, get in trouble for handing out my dad’s collection of Playboys to the same boys I rode bikes with and played “kick the can”. My life would begin to change a bit. I would have to become a little more mature to help my mother out after her surgery, I shared my first kiss with a boy that was actually a little memorable, I would get my first training bra, and it would be the last time I got to see my hero play in Three Rivers Stadium and somehow hoping to see the Pittsburgh Pirates repeat for pennant.
As I write this, I cannot help but tear up, remembering. Thirty six years is a long time, but even for my failing memory, it seems like yesterday. The Pirates team of the 60s and 70s would produce some names that would live on in the annals of baseball history, no doubt, and live even longer in the hearts of those who lived close to the Steel City and followed Pirate baseball. Yet there will be one who will never be forgotten, the City of Pittsburgh won’t let that happen (after all, not only is there a statue of this player but also a bridge and schools named after him) and the MLB won’t allow us to forget by presenting annual awards in his name.
It was New Years eve in 1972, on a trip to a country devastated by an earthquake that the fate of Pittsburgh Pirates Roberto Clemente Walker, would go from being a hero to a legend. In baseball, he was known as “The Great One”. He would see his first World Series one year before I was born and his second one year before his death. 1972 would see the Pirates just falling short in the National League Championship Series due to a wild pitch by Pirates Pitcher Bob Moose.
Clemente would receive the Gold Glove Award from 1961 through 72, have a career .317 batting average, hit for 3000, with 240 homeruns. His career cemented his spot in the Baseball HOF and would put him up there with other greats of the game. Yet his legend doesn’t end on the field. Roberto Clemente, having been born in poverty, had a genuine desire to help people, especially children. It was this desire to help that led him to get on a relief flight to Nicaragua that would take his life, when his plane went down.
Roberto Clemente once said, "I want to be remembered as a ballplayer who gave all he had to give." That wish and his memory was kept alive. He was inducted posthumously into the Baseball HOF one year after his death, received the Congressional Gold Medal in 1973 and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2002. Each year, teams recognizes a player from each team for their achievements both on and off the field with the Roberto Clemente Award and at the end of the season, the MLB presents one player with this honor.
Clemente will always be remembered, for those of us who saw him play, for those of us who pass on his achievements to the next generation. For those who saw his statue in front of Three Rivers Stadium and then moved to PNC Park. For those young men, like Sammy Sosa. For the future generation of players coming out of Puerto Rico. His will be a legacy that will not be marred in scandal or with accusations of greed, only what was best in the game and best in humanity.
So thirty six years after, as I raise my glass to welcome in the new year, I will also remember one of the greatest, not only in baseball, but in humanity. Today, I will remember the legend.
Posted on: April 2, 2008 6:21 am
It’s a character issue. Professional athletes especially in the NFL, are nothing more then a bunch of thugs. I’ve heard this characterization, I’m sure you have also. Perhaps it’s easy to believe this, given the headlines concerning Kobe Bryant, Mike Tyson, Tank Williams, Cedric Wilson, Adam “Pacman” Jones and more. Of course, this is nothing new. We remember the drug issues with the Dallas Cowboys of the 90’s and the legal problems with the Cincinnati Bengals players. It’s not uncommon to see a bench clearing brawl in the MLB and NHL. The NBA isn’t immune from it either, after all, how many times was the brawl during Pacer-Pistons game replayed on ESPN and other sports shows?
Then of course, we have the South Carolina doctor who was arrested for giving athletes performance enhancement drugs, there’s the Mitchell Report and the infamous “spygate”. Okay, maybe spygate doesn’t need to be there, but it left questions to character. Even team cheerleaders aren’t exempt from it, given the incident in Florida by a few Panthers cheerleaders a few years ago.
Okay, let’s admit it. We love the sensationalism that these stories bring. Come on, how many slow down to get a glimpse of the nasty accident on the side of the road? Why did the slow speed car chase with O.J. Simpson make national news? Why was it replayed and reported on, over and over again. The media knows what brings in viewers and readers. They feed our desire for that “dirty laundry”. Let’s face it, all you have to do is look at the boards on Sportsline and see that some of the most popular threads are the ones that point out the human error.
I’m not saying we don’t follow the feel good stories. The relief effort and the volunteerism by numerous sports figures to those affected by Katrina. Watching the amazing progress that Kevin Everett of the Buffalo Bills has made since his injury. We pulled for the Saints to have, at least a good year, during their displacement after Katrina. Nothing new, Lou Gehrig won peoples heart when he disclosed he had ALS.
Yet, even these feel good stories tend to get pushed back into the recesses of our memories, or just dumped from it, because soon another story, another incident comes around and we’re eating up these misdeeds, twisting and turning them until we’ve worn them out, then just wait for the next one to come up. And as we’re feeding on them, we ask ourselves the stupid question of what happened to integrity? The thing is, that integrity is still out there and is more the rule then the exception. Yet we focus on the ill-begotten and miss the what goes on every day, outside of the spotlight.
I had often heard that there aren’t people like Roberto Clemente and Walter Peyton around anymore. People who care about others, who don’t have the “me me me” attitude. Interestingly enough, there are more individuals who are like that. Jason Taylor of the Miami Dolphin’s is one of them. He’s this years recipient of the Walter Peyton Man of the Year Award. Actually, the exception in professional sports is the thug like mentality and the rule are individuals who give back to their communities. And the sports “franchises” encourage this. Why else would the NFL present the Walter Peyton Man of the Year Award or the MLB give out the Roberto Clemente Man of the Year Award? Yet it’s often just a small blurb in the news, perhaps buried somewhere on the back of a sports page that gets overlooked, more often in the community section. It’s only news when there’s an award attached to it. It doesn’t get much play time, unless, like after Katrina, there’s a national effort.
So why does it matter, why write about it? Well, it matters to me, after all, I’m not only a big one for activism, but also volunteerism. I guess where there’s a call or a need to help, I’m there. I quit counting how many March of Dimes walkathons I’ve been on. I’ve been a girl scout volunteer, not only as a troop leader but also cookie mom (don’t ask me how I got conned into that one) and recruiter for the girl scouts. I was at one time a certified Red Cross CPR instructor, then there’s the times I’ve acted as a “hugger” (had to be a hugger, nothing less would do) for the Special Olympics events. The weekend time at the orphanage in Korea, fundraising coordinator for the United Way, blood drive coordinator, organized a few Toys for Tots events, a toy drive for Katrina victims, and the list goes on. Oh and now that I’m in shape, will be walking in the local Walk for the Cure for Breast Cancer.
There’s little recognition that goes with volunteerism, and we do it, not for the recognition but for the ability to help others and how it makes us feel. So since it’s not done for recognition, why write about it? Perhaps to offset the negativity that is so often seen in the national media. Perhaps to remind us that integrity in sports on the field and off the field still exists. For this reason, I’ll be featuring a Wednesday blog extolling the virtues of past and present sports personalities and their charitable works and volunteerism. It deserves to come off the back pages, it deserves to be recognized. It’s not something new. The Fedex Air and Ground Awards gives contributions to the players favorite charities, as does other awards in sports. Of course, I am not in a financial position to give out large (or even small) checks to every charity or cause, but I am in the position to give my thank you to these individuals (even if they don’t read them). This is my thank you to them.
Next Week: A former Baltimore Raven and current Raven front office person and his struggles with ALS, a former Pittsburgh Steeler and his haven for abused and neglected boys, A former LA Laker and his efforts to fight HIV/AIDS.
Posted on: February 17, 2008 8:57 pm
It’s that time of the year again, the time when major league baseball gears up. Talks of team acquisitions, spring training and, of course, the Mitchell Report have begun to dominate the media. I’ve admitted before, that I don’t follow professional baseball as closely as I follow the NFL. No, I couldn’t tell you who’s the top pitcher, catcher or shortstop in the league today. Nor can I tell you the stats of every Pirate’s player, now.
Yet I do remember, summer trips to Three Rivers Stadium, sitting in peanut heaven, throwing peanuts down on people below us (who got pissed off and looked around to see who was showering them with nuts, as we looked innocent). I remember trading coke bottles for bubble gum with baseball cards, taking the players we didn’t like and pinning them to the spokes of our bicycle tires. Listening to the baseball games during family picnics, halting play when I heard the name of my favorite players.
I remember the names of some, the more prominent, Willie Stargell, Barry Bonds, Bobby Bonilla, Bill Mazeroski and one in particular. I remember the pride I felt when I found out that my uncle was trying out for the Pirate’s when he returned from Vietnam and the disappointment when he didn’t make the cut.
It would be later that I tried to give my daughter the same experience I had when I was little. We went to a game, she was bored. I took her to another, she was bored. Yet, even as an adult, though I didn’t follow the games, I did enjoy going to them. They were still fun (yes, I even threw peanuts the few times, just to recreate that old feeling again – unfortunately, it wasn’t the same.)
As nostalgia takes over, there’s a sense of sadness. With the recent information about Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, players who sought to cement their legacy, by what seems to be any means possible, I remember another player who’s legacy was cemented, not only because of the type of player he was on the field but also his selflessness as a human being, a selflessness that would eventually cost him his life.
He will always be known as “The Great One”. His will be a legacy that would surpass that of Sammy Sosa, Bonds and Clemens combined. He has been the inspiration for many players in the major league today. He will also be remembered as a great humanitarian. He is Roberto Clemente.
For those too young to remember Clemente, he was considered one of the best for his times. He led the league in scoring, during four different seasons and was the recipient of twelve Golden Glove Awards. Yet it wasn’t his feats on the field that endeared me to him. It was his compassion. Clemente gave his time, his money and himself to help the underprivileged in Latin American countries, to include those in his home of Puerto Rico. It was this that cemented his legacy in baseball and his homeland. I still remember the shock and sadness I felt when I heard of the plane crash that would take his life in 1972, when he flew down to Nicaragua, after a devastating earthquake to deliver food.
On my last visit to Three Rivers, I stood before the statue that had been erected there, touching it tentatively, remembering the man and tried to describe him to my daughter, she was young, she didn’t get it. At least the major league got it. Not only was Clemente voted into the Hall of Fame in 1973, but now yearly presents the National Roberto Clemente Award to one player on each team who embodies the characteristics that made Roberto Clemente revered: sportsmanship, community service and positive contributions to his team.
Unfortunately, players like Bonds and Clemens seemed to have missed the mark in their quest to achieve greatness. Someone should have told them long ago that it’s not what you can do but who you are that makes you great. To me, Roberto Clemente will always be my hero.