Story By John Murray

For 65 years Roberto Clemente has inspired Latin America and defined what it is to be a man; successful, humble, and always willing to give back to the community.

Amazingly, Clemente’s impact has grown in the 50 years since his plane vanished into the Caribbean Sea on December 31, 1972, carrying a load of relief supplies for earthquake-ravaged Nicaragua.

Roberto Clemente is unquestionably one of the greatest baseball players in history.

There are 45 schools in the United States named after Roberto Clemente, and his name has been used for stadiums in Puerto Rico, Nicaragua, the United States and Germany. His name and face have been used on currency in African countries.

On August 20th a bridge connecting downtown Waterbury, Connecticut, to its Hispanic neighborhood in the South End was renamed the Roberto Clemente Memorial Bridge. It took approval by Waterbury Mayor Neil O’Leary and a unanimous vote in the State Legislature to approve renaming the bridge in Clemente’s honor.

It is believed to be the first time in America that a state legislature voted to honor Roberto Clemente.

State Representative Geraldo Reyes Jr. championed the cause in Hartford, and Alderman Victor Lopez Jr. guided the issue before the city.

Waterbury Alderman Victor Lopez Jr. helped organize the bridge renaming ceremony and the Hispanic Coalition that he leads helped sponsor the event.

During his remarks on the bridge Victor Lopez was animated and joyous. “What is it about renaming a bridge? Right? Well by renaming this we recognize the legacy of Roberto Clemente who was not just a phenomenal baseball player, but he was better at serving other people. He carried on his shoulders the little island of Puerto Rico, and today we carry him and his legacy.”

Members of the Clemente Family traveled to Waterbury to attend the ceremony and included Luis Roberto Clemente (son)., and two of Clemente’s grandsons (pictured up top). They were presented with local, state, and federal citations, the key to the city of Waterbury, and a unique baseball bat manufactured in Waterbury by Tater Bats, the only Hispanic company to manufacture bats for the major leagues.

When Luis Clemente stepped out of a van wearing a Pittsburg Pirates jersey with his father’s iconic #21 ,the crowd burst into applause.

Waterbury Mayor Neil O’Leary, right, presented Luis Clemente with a key to the city.

Freddie Vargas Jr., the owner of Tater Bats in Waterbury, presented a special bat to Luis Clemente. Tater Bats is the only Hispanic owned company making bats for the majors.

During the morning before the bridge ceremony the Clementes were in Hartford conducting a baseball clinic for children. Luis Clemente said, “we continue to do is what our mother taught us, to keep my father’s legacy in such a way that we understand the greatness of what it represents. We must be humble and treat everyone equally. To not think we’re better than anyone. And that’s what we do. That’s our lifestyle, impacting other lives.”

What is the Clemente legacy?

Roberto Clemente is considered one of the greatest baseball players in Major League history. He was a rare five-tool player who could hit, run, throw, field, and slug for power. Playing right field for the Pittsburgh Pirates for 18 years Clemente was a 12-time All Star, four-time batting champion, and a 12-time gold glove winner as the best right field in the major leagues. Clemente won the MVP Award in 1966 and led the Pirates to two World Series Championships and cracked 3000 career base hits.

The astonishing athletic grace of Roberto Clemente playing right field is legendary.

His baseball exploits were extraordinary, and he was posthumously inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1973. Clemente was the first Latin player inducted into Cooperstown, and he was the first player to have the five-year waiting period waived for his enshrinement.

But baseball exploits aren’t the reason grown men stood on a bridge in Waterbury last Saturday and wept while recalling the memory of the great player.

State Representative Geraldo Reyes Jr. grew up idolizing Roberto Clemente and used his influence in the state legislature to help make the bridge ceremony possible.

Two Waterbury families, the Calderons and the Prados are related to the Clemente family and they met for the first time on Saturday. This is David Calderon introducing himself to Luis Clemente, who seemed delighted to discover he had family in Waterbury.

For millions of fans around the world Roberto Clemente personified dignity, responsibility, and compassion. He was a humble super star adored by Latin Americans, particularly Puerto Ricans. Clemente was born in Carolina, Puerto Rico, and had come to the mainland and dominated America’s pastime. Just as Jackie Robinson is revered as a ground breaker for Black Americans, Roberto Clemente shattered the glass ceiling for Latin American players.

Smithsonian Magazine wrote that, “Clemente always cared about children. Despite his busy schedule, he made time to hold baseball clinics for kids, especially for those from low-income families. He dreamed of building a “Sports City” where Puerto Rican youth would have ready access to facilities, coaching, and encouragement in many sports.”

Organizing baseball clinics for children was a passion for Roberto Clemente.

Clemente believed his baseball career could inspire underprivileged Puerto Ricans and give them better lives. When he won the 1966 MVP award he said, “You really have to be something to be like Babe Ruth, he was the best there was. But Babe Ruth was an American player. What we needed was a Puerto Rican player they could say that about, someone to look up to and try and equal.”

Waterbury Mayor Neil O’Leary grew up in Woodbury, Connecticut, played baseball, and was well aware of Roberto Clemente in the 1970s.

Waterbury Mayor Neil O’Leary addressing his remarks to the Clemente Family. O’Leary’s approval of the bridge renaming allowed the project to move forward.

“Whenever something extraordinary and tragic happens, not only do you remember the event, but you also remember where you were and you remember the reaction of your family,” O’Leary said. “I was at our home with our family celebrating New Year’s Eve. I remember the reaction of my uncle who was a tremendous baseball fan and I had never seen him that shaken up.”

Clemente Jr. enjoyed the bear hug Waterbury gave to his father’s legacy and said that the family gathers every December 31st at a point in Puerto Rico to offer flowers to the sea. He said there has been an effort to have the point registered with the National Registry of Historical Places and they hope to receive approval from the Secretary of the Interior in September.

The legacy of Roberto Clemente has been acknowledged in Waterbury, Connecticut.

As State Representative Geraldo Reyes watched Luis Clemente speak atop a bridge spanning I-84 a smile crept across his face. He had spent years championing this moment, and he said it was a surreal and joyous moment.

Reyes said, “It’s a privilege and an honor as proud Puerto Ricans, proud Hispanics, proud Americans, that we were able to do this in the great city of Waterbury.”