Bucs mark Clemente Day with numerous community events

September 15th, 2023

PITTSBURGH -- As Roberto Clemente Jr., , and Harold Reynolds navigated the infusion bays at the Allegheny Health Network Cancer Institute, they encountered James Bergandy, a long-time Pittsburgher who said he used to be neighbors with Barry Bonds.

Bergandy, a Pirates fan, instantly recognized Bednar, shaking the two-time All-Star’s hand and telling him, “Man, you can throw.”

When Bergandy was introduced to Clemente Jr., the memories of The Great One, both on and off-the-field, flooded back. Bergandy knew Clemente’s legacy as a ballplayer -- the championships, the All-Star selections, the Gold Gloves, the batting titles, the NL and World Series MVP Awards.

To Bergandy, the awards and accolades came secondary to Clemente’s legacy as a human. 

“Your father was a great ballplayer,” Bergandy said, “but an even better man.”

On this 22nd annual Roberto Clemente Day, Bednar, Clemente Jr., Joe and Reynolds paid tribute to Clemente’s legacy by providing comfort packages for patients of the Glimmer of Hope Metastatic Breast Cancer Center, as well as helping provide breakfast to AHN Center Institute patients and staff.

“You understand the scope of Clemente and you understand what he meant to this community, but as you go to more events and you hear people talk, you realize it’s not just Pittsburgh. It’s not just Puerto Rico. It’s the entire world that he’s impacted,” said Bednar, a Pittsburgh native and the Pirates' nominee for the 2023 Roberto Clemente Award. “To have that legacy and to continue to be a driving force in people’s inspiration to give back, it just truly speaks not just to what he did as a player. We’re not here talking about his 3,000 hits or anything like that. We’re talking about all of the incredible things he did off the field.”

The hospital visit was one of several charitable events that the Pirates hosted on Friday morning. Additionally, the team organized a renovation of an RBI field in Southside; participated in a care package assembly for overseas troops; and visited the Latino Community Center, building lunch packs, providing after-school activities and restocking its food pantry.

On Thursday evening, Reynolds and Andrew McCutchen, who won the Roberto Clemente Award in 1991 and 2015, respectively, were inducted into the Roberto Clemente Foundation’s Hall of Fame at the foundation’s gala.

“We always talk about your community adopting you and [being] part of that fabric of the community. It's real here,” Reynolds said. “You can see that, and that's something that Roberto stood for. I just look back with him doing what he did. Nobody was really doing it before him, at least not to this level of notoriety. Players come along now where it's almost like a rite of passage to give back. 

“As I've watched through the years, every team has 26 guys that could be nominated because they're all doing things. And I think when they start getting into pro ball, there's more of an awareness of understanding the impact that they have and wanting to be ambassadors in that way. So, we're in a cool place now in history. And Roberto started on that 50 years ago. Unintentionally, that's the best part."

Major League Baseball has celebrated Roberto Clemente Day since 2002, but on Friday morning, the city of Pittsburgh, Allegheny County and the state of Pennsylvania all officially declared Sept. 15 as Roberto Clemente Day as well.

For Joe, who overcame his own battle with cancer during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the tour of the cancer institute held personal significance. During his lap around the infusion bays, Joe spoke with one patient who was dealing with prostate cancer and shared his story. Joe recalled another patient who was slated to ring the bell, signifying she had completed her final chemotherapy treatment. 

“To be down there, to see the patients with their loved ones was special for me,” Joe said. “To be able to bring a little bit of joy and have a little bit of conversation with each one of those patients was really special. And then also to talk with the doctors and just see how much they care about each and every one of the patients and to see what good is going on here on the research side as well as the clinical side."

Clemente, a native of Puerto Rico, died in a plane crash at the age of 38 on New Year’s Eve 1972 while delivering emergency aid to earthquake victims in Nicaragua. He was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1973, becoming the first player from Latin America to be enshrined in Cooperstown.