Facing an ‘us or them’ ultimatum, the pitchers were dismissed. “I was in tears the whole way home,”
Grilli said. “The good part of it was I got to see Italy, but the worst part of it was it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I didn’t get to play.” Grilli traces his family heritage roots to Florence and Naples. He said, “I’m 75 percent Italian. My last name is every bit as Italian as you can get. The name on the front of the jersey is always more important than the name on the back, but in this case, the two go hand-in-hand.
I wouldn’t have ‘Italia’ on the front if I didn’t have ‘Grilli’ on the back. Obviously, I love the United States. But I’m also proud of my lineage.”
said Grilli. “And that’s what I am. I’m an Italian,” said the Italian right-hander (il Italiano adopera la mano destra) who reminisced about his experience playing for Team Italia in
the World Baseball Classic. “One day Tommy Lasorda came in to talk to us. It was one of
the greatest speeches I’d ever heard. I wish I’d memorized or recorded it. He talked about the pride that comes with being Italian, with such feeling. It was a great experience.”
Having been invited to attend the 28th Annual Italian Coach Convention in Parma, Italy, Grilli is seriously considering a coaching career in Italy after he retires from Major League Baseball. “I know (former MLB All-Star and Team Italia coach) Mike Piazza has a house
(in Italy), and he goes over for a couple months every year,” Grilli said. “It‘s intriguing.” Selected by the San Francisco Giants in the first round of the 1997 First-Year Player Draft (fourth pick overall), Grilli made his MLB debut with the Florida Marlins in 2000 and has made 330 career appearances during his 10 seasons in the big leagues. The Pirates signed Grilli as a free agent on July 21, 2011, and he has posted a 2.76 ERA with 127 strikeouts in 92 appearances over the last two seasons. He hinted at comfort and a heightened sense of excitement for Pittsburgh’s resurgence to Clemente-era dominance as top reasons for re-signing. “I’ve been on 10 different teams,” Grilli said. “The grass is never always greener. It’s really all the same. There’s just something fitting here. It’s just a baseball town and it bugs me as much as it bugs everybody else in this city. They want this so bad.” In 2012 Grilli limited opponents to just one run in 15 of his 64 appearances and struck out at least one hitter in 56 of the 64 games. He set a franchise record for relievers by striking out at least one batter in each of his first 19 appearances in 2012. Although a bull in the pen on the mound, Jason is quite the gentlemen to members of the press. The local chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America recently voted Grilli as the winner of the Chuck Tanner Award–an award that recognizes the player who is most cooperative with the media. Jason Grilli wants to bring back the World Series glory days to Pittsburgh. As a proud Italian, he supports MLB’s initiative to foster baseball’s popularity in Italy through the Federazione Italiana Baseball Softball (FIBS)-sponsored MLB Italian Academy and international games like the World Baseball Classic. Grilli said, “I’m in the books in Italian baseball, and that’s good. Major League Baseball wants the game to grow globally, and I’m happy to be a part of that.”
in America and was outspoken about the inequities
he faced. During his first seven years at Pirates Spring Training in Florida, he was not afforded the comfortable amenities a downtown hotel offered. Instead, Clemente was confined to living with a black family in the Dunbar Heights section of Fort Myers. When the Pirates held its annual spring golf tournament at the local country club, Roberto and the other black teammates were excluded.
As if that was not enough disrespect, while his white teammates dined at roadside restaurants on Grapefruit League road trips, Clemente would have to remain on
the team bus. Fed up with such atrocities, he finally coerced the Pittsburgh Pirates front office management
to allow the black players to travel in their own station wagon. Clemente said that enduring the unjust racial divide during spring training was like being in prison. Roberto Clemente’s admiration for
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his participation in the civil rights movement was spurred by the racism he experienced in the United States. During his professional career from 1954 to 1972, he saw significant change in both Major League Baseball and American society. Clemente was an intelligent and politically-charged activist who marched in the street protests of the 60’s and spent time with the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. when the civil rights leader visited him at his farm in Puerto Rico. He
had a strong connection to King as
the humanitarian witnessed firsthand the black freedom struggle from the Montgomery Bus Boycotts to the urban ghetto rebellions and from Rosa Parks to the Black Panthers. When Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis on April 4, 1968, Pittsburgh Pirates All-Star Roberto Clemente was devastated by the news. However, out of respect for the slain leader, he gathered up his teammates for a meeting to prevent the Pirates and Astros from opening their season on April 8th–the day before King’s burial. He convinced his fellow Pirates, which included 11 African-Americans, to stand with him in unity. As a result of his extraordinary call to action in honoring his fallen hero, Pirates 1968 Opening Day was postponed and moved back to April 10th in observance of King’s memorial service. Like Dr. King, Clemente was a passionate believer of social and economic justice. Clemente once said, “If you have the chance to make things better for people coming behind you and you don’t, you are wasting your time on earth.”
David Maraniss quotes Clemente about being warned before speaking out on American injustice in his 2005 biography of the Hall of Fame outfielder: “They say, ‘Roberto, you better keep your mouth shut because they will ship you back.’ [But] this is something
from the first day I said to myself: I am in the minority group. I am from the poor people.
I represent the poor people. I represent the common people of America. So I am going
to be treated like a human being. I don’t want to be treated like a Puerto Rican, or a black, or nothing like that. I want to be treated like any person.” Clemente had a profound social conscience and drive for justice. Toward the end of his career, Clemente felt he had made some headway against prejudice. “My greatest satisfaction comes from helping to erase
the old opinion about Latin Americans and blacks,” he said.On April 3, 1968 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave a speech saying, “I would like to live a
long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight,
that we as a people will get to the promised land.” Clemente shared Dr. King’s personal fatalism and always believed that he would die before his time. His widow Vera remembered, “He always said he would die young that this was his fate.” Born on August 18, 1934 in Puerto Rico just outside of Carolina’s sugar cane fields–where today nearby stands a 30-foot-long cenotaph which encapsulates the life and death of the Puerto Rican legendary hero–Roberto Clemente boarded an ill-fated overweight DC-7 aircraft attempting to fly from San Juan to earthquake-stricken Nicaragua with relief supplies and died when the humanitarian mission flight went plunging into the sea shortly after take off on New Year’s Eve, 1972. Clemente’s body was never found so the cenotaph designed by José Buscaglia is a heartfelt tribute to the Puerto Rican hero. Traditionally, cenotaphs are funerary monuments dedicated to heroes whose bodies are not recovered from the field of battle. So the very genre of Buscaglia’s work honors Clemente as one who gave all for his country. In the center panel, the lamb in Roberto’s arms is the lamb from the Puerto Rican coat of arms. In his life and death, Roberto lifted Puerto Rican identity to a new level in the world. The monument’s inscription reads “Son of Carolina, Exemplary Citizen, Athlete, Philanthropist, Teacher, Hero of the Americas and the World. Believing the promised land was more than a vision, both Clemente and King sacrificed everything to help set into motion a righteous path toward peace, equality and justice for oppressed people throughout the world. On the door of the room Clemente used during Pirates Spring Training is a plaque that reads Roberto’s final wish: “I want to be remembered as a ballplayer who gave all he had to give.” Indeed, not only would that quote suffice as an appropriate epitaph but also accurately depicted the consummate good samaritan that Clemente was in being of service to all.
Instead of playing winter ball in Puerto Rico during the 1958-59 offseason, Roberto Clemente served in the United States Marine Corps Reserves. He spent six months of his military commitment at Parris Island, South Carolina, and Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. While at Parris Island, Clemente received his basic training with Platoon 346 of the 3rd Recruit Battalion. At Camp Lejeune, he was an infantryman. The rigorous training he received helped Clemente physically by gaining ten pounds of muscle and ridding him of long-time back pain. Having served until 1964, Roberto was inducted into the Marine Corps Sports Hall of Fame in 2003. Bob Terrell (right) was the training officer for U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Roberto Clemente.
Bob Terrell’s “Have We Lost Our Common Sense?” is a self-published book by the former Marine lieutenant who grew close to Clemente during the the six months that the baseball legend served on active duty between the 1958 and 1959 seasons. According to the author, their friendship is mentioned briefly in his book because Clemente cared about others regardless of race and always gave his best. Terell said, “He made an impact on my view of civil rights philosophy. I believe we’re all God’s children, and he being an Hispanic, it opened my eyes about the fact that it’s a big world out there. As we became good friends, we kidded each other about my Kentucky drawl, and he about his broken English.” Sharpshooter-qualified Clemente impressed Terrell.
“He absorbed each detail of instruction and was a perfectionist who wouldn’t be satisfied with mediocrity. He practiced and practiced and it didn’t matter how many people glared at him–he maintained his poise.”
His second was to win a batting championship. And his third goal was to build a recreation center in San Juan, the capital of Puerto Rico,” said Terrell. Until his tragic death in a plane crash on December 31, 1972, during a humanitarian mission to help earthquake victims in Nicaragua, Clemente won the National League batting title four times. He won 12 Gold Glove Awards, was named to the NL All-Star team 15 times, named the National League’s Most Valuable Player in 1966, and got over 3,000 hits. “The Great One” led the Pittsburgh Pirates to two World Series Championships in 1960 and 1971. With the efforts of Clemente’s widow, Vera Zabala, and the government of Puerto Rico, the construction of the Roberto Clemente Sports City complex fulfilled the wishes of the Puerto Rican iconic hero by providing athletic opportunities and life lessons for young people. Ciudad Deportiva Roberto Clemente occupies 304 acres
in Carolina, just outside the city of San Juan, consisting of baseball, football and soccer fields, a swimming pool, tennis courts, training facilities and meeting rooms. For his efforts on and off the field, Clemente was elected posthumously into the 1973 Major League Baseball Hall
of Fame. Terrell said, “We live in a time when people think more of themselves than of others. My friend died helping strangers. He was a compassionate person. And he was a great ambassador to baseball, and to humanity. I just don’t want people to forget how he lived and how he died. Roberto Clemente was no ordinary player. And no ordinary man.”
San Juan Senadores Winter League team were personally invited to visit Clemente at his home in Puerto Rico. Currently working as a Houston Astros Minor League pitching coordinator, Matlack recalled when Clemente gathered everyone in his trophy room to talk baseball: “I thought that was pretty classy on his part. He was very personable, showed us his trophy room and memorabilia and spent
a lot of time talking about hitting. Every part of me
was awe-struck.”Matlack reminisced: “This bat was leaning in a corner. Somebody asked about hitting, and he picked up the bat to demonstrate. I remember thinking, ‘That’s a big bat,’ and
I asked about it. He said it had the maximum dimensions. He set it back down, and when everybody sort of moved on, I grabbed hold of it. I could barely pick it up. It led me to believe how strong this guy really was.” Clemente’s strength was tested when Matlack faced “The Great One” six times prior to their final reunion in the fourth inning on September 30, 1972. Clemente was hitless off him with one walk in previous matchups. Matlack’s strategy this at-bat was to avoid a mistake on the inner half, while hoping Clemente would take a quality strike on the outside corner. On a 2-2 pitch, the lefty spun a curveball on the outside.
Matlack said, “As it left my hand,
I was a little upset, because I realized this thing’s not going to make the strike zone. But he took that long stride, kept himself back and pulled it off the left-center-field wall for a double.” Matlack did not recognize what had happened until the second-base umpire, Doug Harvey, presented the ball to Clemente. Jim Fregosi, the Mets’ shortstop who retrieved it, remembered Clemente’s rather nonchalant reaction. He raised his helmet briefly to the fans. Fregosi said, “He was pretty cool about everything he did. That’s how he was.” Fregosi believed Clemente understood the importance of #3000.
The Roberto Clemente Award is given annually to a player who demonstrates the values Clemente displayed in his commitment to community and understanding the value of helping others. Each of the 30 MLB clubs nominate a player, and the winner is announced during the World Series. Baseball fans will be automatically registered for a chance to win a grand prize trip for four to the 2012 World Series or $2500 of baseball equipment donated to the their community and an MLB.com gift card when they participate in the process of selecting the national award recipient by clicking HERE
to vote for their favorite 2012 Roberto Clemente Award nominee: Willie Bloomquist (Arizona D-backs), Tim Hudson (Atlanta Braves), Jim Johnson (Baltimore Orioles), Jon Lester (Boston Red Sox), David DeJesus (Chicago Cubs), Jake Peavy (Chicago White Sox), Todd Frazier (Cincinnati Reds), Jason Kipnis (Cleveland Indians), Michael Cuddyer (Colorado Rockies), Miguel Cabrera (Detroit Tigers), Wesley Wright (Houston Astros), Alex Gordon (Kansas City Royals), C.J. Wilson (Los Angeles Angels), Clayton Kershaw (Los Angeles Dodgers), Logan Morrison (Miami Marlins), Rickie Weeks (Milwaukee Brewers), Justin Morneau (Minnesota Twins), Johan Santana (New York Mets), Mark Teixeira (New York Yankees), Brandon McCarthy (Oakland Athletics), Jimmy Rollins (Philadelphia Phillies), Chris Resop (Pittsburgh Pirates), Matt Holliday (St. Louis Cardinals), Luke Gregerson (San Diego Padres), Matt Cain (San Francisco Giants), Felix Hernandez (Seattle Mariners), David Price (Tampa Bay Rays), Michael Young (Texas Rangers), Ricky Romero (Toronto Blue Jays) and Ryan Zimmerman (Washington Nationals).