Roberto Clemente’s three sons and widow united on September 24, 2013 in New York City to celebrate the book that just hit shelves about their iconic father and baseball player.
The family says they are so proud to release “Clemente: The True Legacy of an Undying Hero,” which includes never-before-released photos of the husband and father who was also a right fielder with the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1955 through 1972, the first Hispanic to win a World Series as a starter, as well as the first to receive an MVP Award and a World Series MVP Award.
The baseball giant passed away, at 38, en route to deliver aid to earthquake victims in Nicaragua in 1972. His plane crashed immediately after takeoff..
“We’re telling the story people don’t know — the individual behind doors,” Roberto Clemente’s middle son, Luis, told NBC Latino. “The fans idolized him. Now they get to know more about him.”
Roberto, the eldest son, was 7 when his father passed away. Luis was 6 and Ricky was 3.
“We know the story – it is what we lived,” says Roberto. “The neat part is collecting the stories and reminiscing. Dad loved live crabs — his favorite food, but sometimes they would escape from the crate and run all over the house…Funny stories like that.”
Luis laughs remembering the time their dad brought home a monkey for them as a pet. The monkey turned out to be very destructive, and they had to get rid of him. But nonetheless, their father thought it important that they grow up with animals and nature. Roberto adds they had peacocks, turkeys, pigs and goats in their backyard in Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico. This is where Clemente’s widow, Vera Clemente, still lives today.
“I have so many good memories,” says Vera, who married Clemente almost 50 years ago. “I have everything from when we traveled. When he used to come back to Puerto Rico for vacation, he’d dedicate his time to the kids on the island. Then we’d take small vacations everywhere and meet people.”
A common practice for Clemente, says his widow, was that anytime he would leave his hotel room when on tournaments, he would take money with him. On the way anywhere, if he saw someone who needed help, he’d give them some money.
“He was always helping,” she says. “After he died, everything came out, but he always helped in secret while he was alive.”
The two eldest boys, Roberto and Luis, remember watching their dad heal people’s backs as if he were a chiropractor.
“Since he suffered from back pain, he was going to a chiropractor and he learned about pressure points and techniques, but he also had something special in his heart that he was able to heal,” says Vera.
Luis explains that his dad had a car accident on the same date he passed away but about two decades before, on December 31,1954.
“He was going to see his brother who just came out of surgery and a drunk driver crashed into him, and that’s when he started suffering from his back,” says Luis, also making reference to the coincidence that his father passed away on December 31, 1972. “He had lots of strange coincidences like that in his life.”
Clemente’s youngest son, Ricky, is also the most timid — which is the reason his mom says he never pursued professional baseball, although he loved to play, like his two other brothers.
Roberto played two seasons for the Philadelphia Phillies in 1984, but had to quit professional baseball due to a knee injury. He returned to Puerto Rico and helped his mother to make his father’s dream a reality — the Roberto Clemente Sports City — a non-profit organization dedicated to providing athletic opportunities and life lessons for young people throughout Puerto Rico. Roberto now lives in Houston, Texas and heads various initiatives having to do with children and health.
“I remember my dad swinging me over the bed, playing around,” says Ricky quietly.
Luis responds, laughing lovingly. “I was very interested in hearing what Ricky had to say, because this is his first interview ever.”
Vera adds that Ricky’s son, 20, also is named Roberto and plays baseball at Syracuse University. She says proudly that he is known for batting identically to his grandfather, whom she still loves dearly.
“We got married in 1964, and we’re still married,” she says. “I still keep him in my heart. He was a good husband, a good father…he was out of this world.”