Roberto Clemente

INTERVIEW: Roberto Clemente’s Sons on Keeping Their Father’s Legacy Alive

Vinegar Hill Production

Roberto Clemente Jr. and Luis Clemente remember going to their father’s baseball games as kids in the late 60s at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh. Their father, late Puerto Rican MLB legend Roberto Clemente, played for the hometown Pirates for 18 seasons.

“We would always get to the ballpark late,” Roberto Clemente Jr. told Remezcla during a recent interview at SXSW. “We would get there in the third inning, and everyone would stand up when we walked down the aisle. I never understood why, but obviously, I understand now. It was about respect.”

Roberto Jr., who is about a year older than Luis (they also have a younger brother named Roberto Enrique), said it was easy for them to spot their father when they looked onto the field during the game.

“The way he walked, the way he ran – he was so different from everybody else in everything he did,” Roberto Jr. said. “He was a thoroughbred out there with a touch of royalty. He really separated himself from everybody else.”

More than 50 years after Clemente’s untimely death (he died in a plane crash set to deliver aid to earthquake victims in Nicaragua), his sons continue to pay tribute to their father with the release of the feature documentary, Clemente.

Although Clemente’s story has been detailed before in other projects, his sons consider the new film as an opportunity to give a new generation a “fresh perspective” on their father’s baseball milestones and legacy. All three of Clemente’s sons serve as executive producers on the new documentary.

“Baseball was the vehicle to get my dad’s message across,” Luis said. “He was not just a good ball player. He had to excel in what he did to get listened to. He was carrying a message and a voice for those who didn’t have a voice back then. He knew what he represented. He knew there was a calling for him.”

As a world-class athlete, Clemente’s calling on the field included 15 All-Star appearances, 12 Gold Glove Awards, and two World Series championships. He is also one of only 33 players in MLB history to have 3,000 career hits. Right after winning the 1971 World Series, a series where he was also named MVP, Clemente gave a live interview and started it in Spanish. It was the first time Spanish was spoken via satellite on a network in the U.S.

“In that moment, he galvanized all Latinos [and] all Hispanics around the world,” Roberto Jr. said. “It was the first time that the World Series was played at nighttime, so people were out of work watching a baseball game.”

Today, Roberto Jr., Luis, and Roberto Enrique continue to lead their father’s humanitarian efforts with the Roberto Clemente Foundation and other endeavors. They know he would be proud of everything they’re doing as a family.

“Our mom taught us to continue that legacy with the utmost respect and understanding of what the name represents,” Luis said. “This is why we keep the legacy going the way we do.”