VILLA EL CARMEN, Nicaragua – When Roberto Clemente Jr., son of the legendary Hall of Famer who died in a plane crash while bringing relief aid to earthquake victims in Nicaragua in 1972, first stepped onto the baseball field at the modest ballpark named after his father in Masaya, he had a ghostly flashback to his youth.
“Going to the stadium reminded me of going to the Sixto Escobar Stadium in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and I swear when I walked in and saw the base paths, I saw dad running the bases,” Clemente Jr., 45, told The Nica Times during a visit to Nicaragua this week. “It was a very special and weird feeling. It was very emotional for me, because he loved that stadium (in Puerto Rico). It was a special place for him and the people loved him and he loved them back. And that’s the way the whole thing started, and that’s how it ended.”
Clemente’s brilliant baseball career for the Pittsburgh Pirates ended tragically on an ill-fated humanitarian trip destined for Nicaragua. But for Clemente Jr., a former Yankees and ESPN Spanish-language broadcaster who manages several baseball charity foundations in his family’s name, the work in Nicaragua is only just beginning.
Following his trip here last weekend, Clemente Jr., a former minor league standout who suffered a career-ending back injury shortly before his scheduled Major League debut with the Baltimore Orioles in 1989, got a taste of the country that his father had fallen in love with 40 years ago.
And after a few days of visiting here, he didn’t need much convincing to rekindle his father’s legacy in Nicaragua. On Jan. 18, Clemente Jr. agreed to join the board of directors of the International Baseball Academy of Central America (IBACA), which is hoping to break ground in the coming months on Nicaragua’s first baseball academy. And Clemente went a step further, and got his friend, Nicaraguan Major League pitcher Vicente Padilla, to join the board also.
IBACA hopes the inclusion of the two new board members, which already includes former Major League greats Reggie Smith, Dave Stewart and Brad Lesley, will help the nonprofit organization raise the additional half-million dollars it needs to break ground in the coming months on Central America’s first baseball academy.
Read this Friday’s Nica Times print edition for complete story.