The above statue outside PNC Park commemorates Pittsburgh Pirate’s center field great Roberto Clemente.
BY SKYLA LUCKEY, Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG —Roberto Clemente Day is celebrated around the baseball world in September. Last week, Major League Baseball (MLB) announced Tampa Bay Rays player Chris Archer as one of the 2015 nominees for the Roberto Clemente Award.
The 14th annual Roberto Clemente Day this year was observed Sept. 16 at Tropicana Field to honor players who follow the example of the late Pittsburgh Pirates legend and philanthropist who lost his life New Year’s Eve 1972 during a flight attempting to deliver supplies to assist earthquake victims in Managua, Nicaragua.
Prior to his death, the 15-time all-star baseball player provided positive service to his community on and off the field. Recognizing players for their positive contributions in sportsmanship and to the community, the award, which was created in 1971, was renamed for Clemente in 1973 after his untimely death.
Clemente was no stranger to the Bay area. He would spend every spring in St. Petersburg during spring training. But because of staunch segregation, black ballplayers couldn’t stay in hotels with the white ballplayers, so they had to find lodging in the black neighborhoods.
Local resident Paul Stewart was just a youngster at the time, but his grandmother stepped up to the plate and played host to an array of young talent during spring training sessions.
Stewart dined and shared his room with some of the greats, such as Curt Flood and Bill White, but his time with Clemente stood out to him. He remembers how they would sit on opposite twin beds facing each other, and Clemente would share the events of his day. The two would stay up during the night working on Clemente’s English.
Whether it was in his adopted home of Pittsburgh or in his native Puerto Rico, fans have never forgotten him.
Twenty-six-year-old Archer is one of 30 MLB nominees of the Roberto Clemente Award presented by Chevrolet. A Raleigh, N.C., native, he gives back to his community in many ways.
Archer focuses on empowering underprivileged youth through his organization, Archway Foundation. He sponsors two youth baseball teams—the Archers—and he requires the youth players to take part in extracurricular activities such as community service projects and book readings.
Archer himself read to the youth by participating in the “Reading with the Rays” program and helped the annual Big Brothers, Big Sisters Bowl for Kids’ Sake raise nearly $50,000. He has partnered with the non-profit Good Sports, Inc. and has donated over $65,000 in sports equipment to underprivileged youth nationwide.
Archer’s giving spirit goes beyond the Tampa Bay area. He contributes to non-profits in his hometown of Raleigh, N.C.. He supports youth baseball programs during away games, such as the Rays vs. Texas Rangers pregame ceremony at Globe Life Park, which honored 16 youth teams competing in the 2015 RBI World Series.
“It’s not all me—a lot of people put a lot of time and effort in to line these things up,” said Archer in an interview with Sports Talk Florida. “I make myself available, but there’s some great people for the Rays who have pieced it together.”
Archer pitched against the New York Yankees that night and set a franchise single-season strikeout record when he struck out Brett Gardner in the third inning. That marked his 240th strikeout of the year; unfortunately, the Rays lost 3-1 to the Yankees. Archer was recognized for his nomination pre-game on Sept. 17.
“I’m thankful and honored to be the Roberto Clemente Award nominee for an organization that is so active in the community,” said Archer. “Clemente embodied everything that is great about the game of baseball. To be spoken of in the same breath as him is indescribable.”
Fans can vote for the overall winner of the Roberto Clemente Award and register for a chance to win a trip to the 2015 World Series on www.chevybaseball.com.