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Walker's father recalls memories of Clemente

On Roberto Clemente Day, former Major Leaguer shares story of last conversation
MLB.com @AdamMcCalvy

CINCINNATI -- Wednesday was Roberto Clemente Day around Major League Baseball, honoring the Hall of Fame ballplayer and philanthropist who died in a plane crash 45 years ago as he tried to deliver relief supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua.

For Brewers infielder Neil Walker and his dad, Tom, who was supposed to be on that plane that night, it was a reminder of the fleeting nature of life.

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CINCINNATI -- Wednesday was Roberto Clemente Day around Major League Baseball, honoring the Hall of Fame ballplayer and philanthropist who died in a plane crash 45 years ago as he tried to deliver relief supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua.

For Brewers infielder Neil Walker and his dad, Tom, who was supposed to be on that plane that night, it was a reminder of the fleeting nature of life.

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"I still get goosebumps talking about it. My dad does too," Neil Walker told FS Wisconsin in an interview broadcast during Wednesday's 7-1 loss to the Reds. "I certainly wouldn't be here if he had gotten on that plane."

It's a story that has been told publicly before, but it may have been new to Brewers fans who are still getting to know Walker in the wake of the August 12 trade that brought him to Milwaukee from the Mets.

Tom Walker pitched parts of six seasons in the big leagues, and he got to know Clemente playing winter ball in Puerto Rico. He was coming off his rookie season when, on Dec. 31, 1972, Walker was among a handful of ballplayers helping to load a small plane in San Juan with food, clothing and medical supplies, bound for Nicaragua.

Clemente was to personally deliver the goods to ensure their safe arrival. Tom Walker was to travel along, but Clemente urged him and several others to stay.

So Walker stayed, and he survived. The plane went down soon after takeoff, killing all aboard.

Eventually, Walker was drawn to Clemente's adopted hometown of Pittsburgh. That's where Neil was born and raised before beginning his own Major League career with the Pirates.

"He was a hero of mine as a kid," Tom Walker told the Brewers' television broadcast during Wednesday's game.

Tom Walker shared vivid details of Clemente's final moments.

"I can still see him standing on the ramp to the plane, and I was talking to him," Tom Walker said. "I'm probably the last ballplayer to see him alive. As I worked my way back to my apartment that evening, the person across the street from me came over to tell me that his plane had crashed and there's no survivors. Well, there's no English-speaking radio stations in Puerto Rico, there's no ESPN, there's no cell phones in 1972, so I thought, 'This cannot be.'

"He's a legend today. His spirit still lives on at PNC [Park] and around Major League Baseball, and today is a great day to honor Roberto."

Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy and like him on Facebook.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Milwaukee Brewers, Neil Walker