SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- Roberto Clemente's family is sharing a time-honored and private tradition with the world for the island's greater good.Every year on the anniversary of Clemente's tragic death in an airplane crash off the shores of Puerto Rico while attempting to deliver supplies to earthquake-ravaged Nicaragua on
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- Roberto Clemente's family is sharing a time-honored and private tradition with the world for the island's greater good.
Every year on the anniversary of Clemente's tragic death in an airplane crash off the shores of Puerto Rico while attempting to deliver supplies to earthquake-ravaged Nicaragua on Dec. 31, 1972, the family gathers near Pinones in Loiza, Puerto Rico, where the accident happened, and throws flowers into the crashing waves until the petals disappear into the ocean.
Now, everyone will have the opportunity to celebrate the Hall Famer in their own way.
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On Wednesday, Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred, the Clemente family, Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello and several special guests, including former players and current Twins and Indians players in town for the Puerto Rico Series, attended a special ceremony to unveil a memorial marker in honor of Clemente. The marker will be placed at the shoreline near the waters where Clemente's plane went down, and it will be open to the public.
"It's so emotional, because for so many years we have been coming to this place and keeping it to ourselves and paying our respects, but now it's time for others to experience it with us," Roberto's son, Luis Clemente, said. "This site will become the place where fans from all across the world will be able to come and pay their respects to my father's memory. I think in this time with Puerto Rico still suffering from the devastation after Hurricane Maria, we need a lot of support and some of that can come from tourism. With this site, Dad will continue to give back to Puerto Rico."
The effort was spearheaded by members of the U.S. Congress: Luis Gutierrez, Jose Serrano and Nydia Velazquez. The marker will be placed at a later date.
"Puerto Rico has a unique place in baseball history," Manfred said. "A lot of it has to do with the great players, some of whom are here with us today, current and former players. But first among that group is Roberto Clemente, and he's first among that group not only because he was a great player, but because he was a great humanitarian. Because of the great works done by Roberto Clemente and others, our players have a long tradition of service in their communities. They do it each and every day. They are great citizens and they particularly show up in times of great need like when Hurricane Maria hit this island."
Former Major League player Eduardo Perez served as the master of ceremonies for the event. He was joined on the dais by Manfred, Rossello, Roberto's widow Vera Clemente and their sons Luis and Enrique. Cleveland teammates Francisco Lindor and Roberto Perez, Twins outfielder Eddie Rosario along with former Major League players Carlos Delgado, Bernie Williams and Javier Vazquez, who represented the MLB Players Association, were among those seated in the first few rows. Twins executive vice president and chief baseball officer Derek Falvey, Indians CEO Paul Dolan and Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti were recognized. Pirates broadcaster Steve Blass, who was Clemente's teammate and one of his closest friends, was a special guest.
"Roberto Clemente, my teammate, my hero and my friend, I miss him to this day," Blass said. "There are a lot of great players and lot of great legacies, but Roberto Clemente is never removed from our consciousness, both as a baseball player and as a humanitarian."
Jesse Sanchez, who has been writing for MLB.com since 2001, is a national reporter based in Phoenix. Follow him on Twitter @JesseSanchezMLB and Facebook.