Post-Script: Clemente’s Last Wish, Completed by the Bronx


Clemente’s Last Wish, Completed by the Bronx

by Koi Germany Jr.


Robert Clemente 21The year was 1972. Fresh off his 12th consecutive Rawlings Gold Glove Award, 3000th hit and .312 batting average, Pittsburgh Pirates right fielder, Roberto Enrique Clemente Walker, known simply as the Great One, appeared all but unstoppable.

For all his accolades and on-field feats however, including the only walk-off inside-the-park grand slam, the man for whom streets, schools and institutions are named was above all, human.

With an inborn feeling of kinship for his fellow man, Clemente was known to donate his time and effort off-season to humanitarian efforts.

To this end, Clemente experienced a call to arms when, on December 23rd  the Republic of Nicaragua was struck by a 6.2 magnitude earthquake, leaving thousands inured, homeless or dead.

Arranging emergency relief flights to the country, he later discovered his aid packages had been intercepted by the corrupt political regime and thus set out on a personally chartered aircraft that New Year’s Eve, determined to see his efforts realized.

Unfortunately, the aid would never arrive. Clemente’s plane crashed into the Atlantic Ocean shortly after takeoff, and with it, his unfulfilled aspirations for the Nicaraguan people.

It would remain this way for the next 33 years.

“I’ll be honest with you, this was inspired by a dream and it took years to figure out what the dream really meant,” Eliezer Rodriguez, Esq., attorney, Bronxite and unofficial Roberto Clemente historian, conveys.

With a passion for not only the sport, but the sportsmanship Clemente embodied, Rodriguez saw an opportunity to correct a wrong exacted by time itself.

“And then, at the end of the dream, there was a riddle. . .You share my numbers, bat for me,’” he explains.

A Flyer for the Flight for Humanity Acting on what he believed to be a message from the late Clemente, beginning in 2000 Rodriguez founded Project Club Clemente, Inc., with the purpose of enlightening the population at large of Clemente’s efforts and the values he stood for.

The first of their major accomplishments would come in 2002 while promoting the 30th anniversary of his 3000th hit, doing so with a commemorative run around Robert Clemente State Park in the Bronx.

“I focused for many years on the first part of that riddle, which was ‘…share my numbers,’” Rodriguez adds as he explains his reasoning behind the run.

Researching each of Clemente’s 3,000 hits and converting them into a measureable distance, Rodriguez would go on to sprint for 76,003 feet. He termed this effort, Stepping into the Shoes of 21, Clemente’s jersey number.

He then completed the same distance the following year, this time with a bicycle tour, before finally deciding that 2004 would be the year he would complete Clemente’s last mission and voyage to Nicaragua.

Shortly before the trip however, South Asia would experience the massive Indian Ocean tsunami and earthquake, forcing the group to postpone their efforts for an entire year.

Further still, Hurricane Katrina would decimate New Orleans in the middle of 2005, hampering Rodriguez’s efforts to raise aid for what he dubbed, The Flight for Humanity.

“I mortgaged my house, I took out a loan against my property and got a cosigner and I chartered and aircraft,” Rodriguez wearily expresses.

For a while, it seemed the hardships were successive as the attorney dealt with a blown engine, crash scares and overall resistance to the efforts.

“. . .Some people would wonder whether I have commitment to a project or whether I should be committed, and I recognized that,” Rodriguez, conscious of both the enormity and the peculiarity of his dream, expresses. “I did this because I needed to get some rest,” he says finally.

Donated Gear for Operation Batter-Up


Regardless, he overcame these obstacles in December of 2005, landing in Nicaragua with not only thousands of pounds in material aid, but also Clemente’s eldest son, Roberto Clemente Jr.

“Imagine. . .it feels like you have someone holding you down,” Rodriguez reflects, “you feel the weight and then all of the sudden, the plane lands in Nicaragua and you feel the weight being lifted.”

The accomplishment proved to be bittersweet, a success by all accounts except his own.

“I wish that I had spent more time trying to get the educational message across,” he admits regretfully.

While brought to fruition by the whims of one man, the effort was to be a platform for all, a symbol of commitment and the fruits of dedicated efforts.

Always one to correct the record however, Rodriguez saw his opportunity in the 10th anniversary of the Flight for Humanity to disseminate the late humanitarian’s values and ideas to the Bronx and in time, the world.

“When you think about all the people on this planet and all the institutes, and all the states. . .that could have made this happen, including the Clemente family themselves, it was done here in the Bronx and it was inspired by a dream,” he states proudly.


Furthering his efforts, Rodriguez has recently established another campaign in honor of Clemente, Operation Batter-Up.


By providing the youths of Nicaragua with new and gently used baseball equipment, Rodriguez aspires to provide thousands of children with the same means Clemente used to make the world a better place.


“Baseball was an ends to a mean. It enabled him to help others because he never forgot where he came from. . .[He] never forgot thy neighbor, and to me, that’s the most sacred commandment.”


Those who wish to donate to Project Batter-Up may do so at two drop off points located at 1867 Williamsbridge Rd. and the Bronxchester Little League. Monetary donations should be made to the Bronx YMCA.


Koi Germany, Jr. is a freelance writer contributing to the Bronx Times. 

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