Clemente's message alive and well in SF
Prior to Game 2, youth encouraged to dream big, help community
SAN FRANCISCO -- In the days leading up to this big moment at Mission Education Center in San Francisco's Noe Valley district, students from kindergarten through fifth grade were read a Scholastic Book about the life and times of a man named Roberto Clemente.
"Oh, they know about him," Vera Clemente said with a smile.
Making sure of that is at the forefront of Major League Baseball's World Series Game 2 theme, which is dedicated to community service and the presentation of the Roberto Clemente Award presented by Chevrolet. Their moment arrived when they could show how much they had learned. They presented Vera, Roberto's widow, with flowers and a gift. They sat in the middle of a big room and listened with remarkable attention -- even with Giants mascot Lou Seal sitting there on the floor amongst them -- to words of wisdom from four people who could communicate that legacy, to make sure this young generation learns the story.
"It's an honor to stand in front of the future leaders of tomorrow, today," Jeremy Affeldt, the Giants' Clemente winner, told the primarily Latin children through an interpreter. "Why I do what I do is because I was given a chance at your age to dream, and to dream really big. I dreamed about being a Major League player for a long time. I was able to accomplish that dream because I was given the opportunity to dream.
"My biggest encouragement to you is to take your opportunities and to dream really big. I hope that what ballplayers do, and what ballplayers continue to do in following in the footsteps of Mr. Clemente, is to provide as many opportunities as possible for you guys to reach and keep your dreams. Because it's very important that we recognize who you are as leaders of tomorrow, and I want you to know that Major League Baseball players care about you. We play this game, we try to play it correctly like Mr. Clemente played it, and we try to provide opportunities for you off the field and on the field, for you guys to achieve your dreams just like Mr. Clemente did."
Vera Clemente, her son Luis Clemente, Affeldt and Hall of Famer Juan Marichal were on hand to convey the Clemente message at this school setting, an example of how MLB is broadening its reach into the community through each successive World Series. The theme of Game 1 was Stand Up To Cancer. Game 2 is about Clemente and remembering what he stood for. Game 3 will be about Youth, highlighting Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) presented by KPMG and Boys & Girls Clubs of America. Game 4 will salute and help Welcome Back Veterans.
"We always visit schools during the year, but this is the first time they have coordinated an event like this on the day of Roberto's award," Vera said as she signed the shirts of young students with a marker. "Then the children, they have more ideas, how to learn in advance about using Roberto as an example. Marichal told them to study. That's something that they will never forget."
Indeed, Marichal, the Giants legend with the high leg kick and the contagious smile, spoke to them at length with unbridled enthusiasm. He loves this kind of opportunity, to positively impact any kid possible. He looked out into a sea of bright-eyed students, and the Dominican Dandy's mind wandered back to his Caribbean youth as he spoke to them in his native Spanish language:
"When I was a kid," he said, "I didn't have the opportunity to go to school, so I preferred playing baseball every day. I had so many arguments with the mother. She'd say to me, 'Son, what are you gonna do when you grow up? You have to prepare for the future. You have to get a good education.' I used to tell her, 'Mother, I want to be a baseball player.' I didn't know at the time that you could make a living playing baseball. I just wanted to play to represent my country and the team they had there. But I don't recommend that to any kid first. First is education. You can play any sport you want, but first is education."
Veronica Chavez, assistant superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District, told them that Clemente's legacy means remembering who you are and giving back, no matter how far you succeed in life.
If you reach even one kid in the audience with an event like this, it is Mission Education Center accomplished.
"He was someone who worked really hard to be the best, and in doing so he never forgot where he came from, and he never forgot to give back," Chavez told them. "I think [that] is what made him wonderful and a super human being. In our world, in a current climate that is waiting for a superhero to help us with all of our challenges, I think it is really about looking within each of ourselves to find that hero, to find that person who can give back and contribute."
For Vera, it was important to tell them the story of her own children, when they were little, when she and Roberto raised them while he made a living with the Pirates.
"They already knew about Roberto when we got here," she said after speaking. "I told them I had to travel to Puerto Rico after the seasons because my children were born there. Roberto loved Puerto Rico so much, he wanted his kids to go there. Then we lived in Pittsburgh during the baseball season, and I have to fly home to Puerto Rico with the baby. It wasn't so easy in those days. I told them it's wonderful for them to study hard. They can practice their sports, but then they have to have different identities. For example, the teachers here are good examples. To be responsible to keep working hard, to get to the top, to achieve whatever they want to be."
Affeldt had just pitched the night before in the World Series, and he was given a hero's welcome by the students -- as were the others on the panel. As one of 30 nominees for the overall Roberto Clemente Award, each selected player is actually honored as a winner within their local market. The Giants' Clemente winner was here and his optimistic outlook on life comes through all the time, and especially in a setting like this.
"Just to have the opportunity to share with these kids, it's beautiful," Affeldt said. "One thing Vera and Roberto's sons do a really good job at is, they really represent Roberto well. They obviously knew him. They carry his legacy so well. I've read up on Roberto a little bit since I've been nominated, and to see how he loved baseball, but more than anything, he loved humanity. I think his love for humanity has been so encouraging. He truly did unto others as he would have hoped to have done unto him if he were in the same position. That's kind of the motto I carry in my family and my children are raised under. That motto has just been awesome.
"To see what they're doing. ... Roberto provided for a lot of people. He tried to bring encouragement and love to a big community around the world. To be a part of that, to say I represent something similar to what he represented, is something I am very flattered to be honored with. They are very loving people and they have carried his legacy very well."
As World Series pitchers, both Affeldt and Marichal were in position to offer some additional analysis of what had just happened the night before -- a rather shocking offensive outburst on a night when Cliff Lee was facing Tim Lincecum.
"I was surprised about Cliff Lee, because he's been so dominating," Marichal said. "You could tell the way he pitched that he didn't have his good stuff, and his breaking ball wasn't good enough. Giving up five or six runs, it's not usual for him. By the same token, Lincecum, he wanted to go nine innings, he couldn't make it, but he ended up winning the game -- that's more important. Both pitchers, they didn't have what they showed everybody before the game. Everybody thought it was going to be a real close game. The game ended up 11-7. When you look at the score, you ask yourself, 'Who was pitching that gave up that many runs?' But both teams have great pitching."
Affeldt was one of 12 pitchers used in that opener, giving up a run and a walk with no outs.
"Honestly, it wasn't probably a well-pitched game. I walked a guy," he said. "I think it was an offensive game. I don't think anybody expected that. But you know what? In the playoffs, people's expectations either get exceeded or not exceeded. You never know in the playoffs. Our bats came alive, thankfully, because we needed 11 runs obviously to win that game. To me, I think it's going to be a well-pitched game [Thursday], with two good starting pitchers on the mound again. We'll see what happens."
With that, a local Major League All-Star walked out of the school, signing shirts and anything proffered him on the way out, and back into his World Series world. Marichal's white stretch limo pulled out. Lou Seal had to go back to AT&T Park. Vera Clemente was off to the awards presentation later in the day at the ballpark. There at Mission Elementary School, a throng of young citizens had been exposed to the life and times of a man called Roberto Clemente, and maybe some of them will grow up to impart similar goodwill throughout the world.