By Anne Rogers and Brian Hall
MINNEAPOLIS — No. 21 was prominent all around Target Field on Thursday night as the Royals and Twins began their series finale, celebrating Roberto Clemente Day and honoring a player central to baseball history for what he did both on and off the field.
Six Twins wore Clemente’s No. 21, including Puerto Rican natives Carlos Correa, Jose Miranda, Jorge López and Jovani Moran. Emilio Pagán, who is of Puerto Rican descent, and Byron Buxton, the team’s Roberto Clemente Award nominee, also wore the number.
“It means everything,” Correa said of wearing No. 21. “The guy that inspired me to dream big and play this game. … It’s a very special day for me. You grow up in Puerto Rico learning the history of Roberto Clemente and how great he was. All the people he touched off the field is what inspired me the most, and that’s the reason why I have a foundation to help others because my idol, Roberto Clemente, did it. I just always wanted to be like him.”
In the Royals dugout, catcher Salvador Perez and shortstop Nicky Lopez donned No. 21. Perez was the Royals’ Clemente Award nominee last year, and Lopez got the nod this year.
“It’s a blessing to wear it,” Perez said. “I appreciate what he did for baseball and opening the door for the Latino community. He’s an example we can follow to try to do what he did. Help the community and use our opportunity here to help other people. Especially where I come from, in Venezuela, it’s hard growing up there. So I try my best to help others.”
Dec. 31 will mark 50 years since Clemente was killed in a plane crash while he was on his way to deliver emergency supplies to an earthquake-ravaged Nicaragua in 1972. Thursday was MLB’s 21st annual Roberto Clemente Day, and teams across the league showed a video tribute to the former Pirate and 15-time All-Star, known just as much for his philanthropic efforts as his Hall of Fame career.
Additionally, a customized tribute video to both Roberto and his wife, Vera, was shown on the scoreboard. There also was a No. 21 patch on every jersey Thursday night, and the Clemente logo was on the bases and dugout cards.
The Twins honored Buxton as their nominee for the 2022 Roberto Clemente Award, given annually to the player best representing the game of baseball through extraordinary character, community involvement, philanthropy and positive contributions, both on and off the field. There is one nominee for the prestigious honor from each of the 30 MLB clubs before the overall winner is announced in November.
The Royals plan to honor Lopez during next week’s homestand at Kauffman Stadium. Buxton and Lopez had language on their No. 21 jersey patches reflecting their nomination.
“It’s very special,” Lopez said. “He was someone who played a pivotal part in our game. I’ve always said that we’re given this platform to reach out and lend a helping hand, and Clemente exemplified that. So to wear the number is special, and I’m just honored and humbled by it.”
For Thursday’s ceremonial first pitch, University of Minnesota neurologist Dr. Miguel Fiol took the mound. The Puerto Rico native follows the example of Roberto Clemente in his work regarding social and cultural issues within the Latinx community, especially that of his home island.
Over the last 35 years, Dr. Fiol has created several local civic organizations to promote Latino unity, while also going on medical missions to assist with hurricane and earthquake relief efforts in various Latino countries, including Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria.
Growing up in Puerto Rico, the lessons of Clemente came from everywhere to impact Correa.
“In school, they teach it,” Correa said. “Everywhere you go in Puerto Rico, there’s a Roberto Clemente stadium or ballpark. The coaches, they teach it. They make sure you know the history of the game. And just my father. He’s such a baseball fan. We always talked baseball. So, everywhere I was, I was hearing about Roberto Clemente.”
A few years younger than Correa, Miranda also was taught the history of Clemente. In their home country, Clemente is never far from people’s thoughts.
“He was an idol for a lot of people, like my grandpa, my dad, people that could watch him play,” Miranda said. “He was a big one.”