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La Liga de Las Americas

Going to bat for 21: Roberto Clemente

By Arooj Ashraf, La Prensa Cleveland Correspondent

Roberto Clemente, a legendary Latino baseball player, mesmerized fans as a Pittsburgh Pirate during a career that spanned from 1955 to 1972. During that career, Clemente collected 3,000 hits, 12 Gold Glove Awards, a National League Most Valuable Player Award in 1966, and led his team to two World Series victories in 1960 and 1971.

Clemente died in a plane crash in 1972 trying to fly food and medical supplies to victims of a Nicaraguan earthquake from his native Puerto Rico.

However, it was off the field where he won many hearts with his humanitarian work and genuine desire to help his community and society. To honor his legacy a small campaign to retire Clemente’s number 21 is quickly gaining momentum among Latinos and béisbol fans.

Julio Pabón, CEO of Latino Sports, a South Bronx company, is one of the leading forces behind the movement. Pabón is the producer of the film, “Legacy of 21,” which highlights Clemente’s outstanding baseball career, impeccable character, and humanitarian work. The film is a tool to educate people about Clemente’s life and convince Major League Baseball to award him the greatest honor in baseball and retire his number 21.


Jackie Robinson, the first African-American to play major league baseball during the modern era, is the only player whose number has been retired for overcoming racism and opening the doors of equality in U.S.-American sports.

Pabón said by retiring number 21, baseball will set an example of an extraordinary man who excelled beyond the field to help his community and create a better society.

“It is interesting that a man who died in ‘73 is still influencing us in 2007,” he told a small audience gathered at the Hispanic Youth Center in Cleveland on Friday August 10, 2007. “The number 21 is a symbol of respect, dignity, and humanity,” said Felix Muñiz, director of the Hispanic Youth Center. The film screening was sponsored by the Hispanic Urban Minority Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Outreach Program Inc. (HUMADOP), and the Sister of Charity Foundation.


“This is a project of love,” Pabón said of the film, which received a standing ovation from the audience. The movie was completed in seven months with the help of many Latino musicians, translators, and talented volunteers who contributed their time, cutting the budget from $80,000 to $40,000.


“I guarantee you, we will retire this number because there is something special here,” he said.

Pabón has traveled to a dozen cites showing the movie and getting petitions signed. The signatures have not been tallied but Pabón has a vision. “I would like to see so many petitions that we would need a van to deliver them,” he said.

Members of the New York Yankees solidified their support for the movement by personally signing the petition. “I made copies and framed the original,” said Pabón. He likes to show it to competing teams to rally their support for the Retire 21 Movement.

Clemente’s Pirates have not gotten involved with the campaign. Nor has there been a screening of this film in Pittsburgh.

All film screenings are free but donations from $2.10 to $21,000 are welcome to support the ‘Going to Bat for 21’ campaign. The money is used to create promotional materials and to compensate contributors who made the film possible.

“If we as a community can come together to retire a number, then we can do something to fight AIDS, combat teenage pregnancies, and the high school dropout rate,” he said.

The Clemente family is not part of the campaign but they support the movement, said Pabón. He plans to take the campaign to a national level and is negotiating an advertorial in the New York Times Oct. 2007.

To learn more about the campaign and to sign petitions visit www.retire21.org


¡“Ya, es Tiempo”!

Editor’s Note: In the photo on page 1 in La Prensa are, L-R: Carlos I. Ramos, Executive Director of HUMADAOP, Julio Pabón, C.E.O. of Latino Sports, and Luis. A. Gómez, Congressional Staff for Dennis Kucinich.





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