Domo Arigato, Nolan Arenado

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Nolan Arenado was one of two men hitting home runs in extra innings to power their struggling teams over opponents who were favored to win their contests. Both these games occurred in California, so your paper may not have had the results. At Dodger Stadium,  Arenado unleashed his 39th home run off a Mat Latos pitch in the top of the 16th inning, as the Rockies beat the first place Dodgers 5-4. The Dodgers had been down 3-1 in the 7th and leveled the game. Both teams scored in the 11th before Arenado’s shot provided the Rockies their margin of victory.

Meantime, in the city by the bay, in a tie game in the tenth inning  Todd Frazier registered his 34th home run of the season as the lowly Reds took a 9-8 win in 10 over the defending World Series champion Giants. The Reds thought they might not have to work overtime following a five-run 7th inning which gave them a lead of 8-5. But in the 9th, with the score at 8-7 Giants all-everything Buster Posey who had busted one for 3 runs in the fourth,  tied the game with an RBI base hit. Compared to the marathon further south, the Reds quickly put the game to bed needing only one extra inning for the win.

A Day Not to be Forgotten

September 16 is Roberto Clemente Day throughout baseball. The custom was begun in 2002. Like too many baseball fans, I did not know this fact until a kindly correspondent told me of it, and asked that I mention it in this forum. Jackie Robinson Day began 5 years earlier amid great fanfare and is still celebrated that way every April 15. It’s as certain as taxes. Roberto Clemente deserves the same recognition throughout the baseball world.

He was an All-Star a dozen times over. the only year he wasn’t selected was 1968-by coincidence the year he rallied almost a dozen black Pirates players, and they convinced the team  to postpone  their Opening Day in honor of slain Dr. Martin Luther King JR. He played on World Series winners in 1960 and 1971, taking the MVP award for the latter appearance. He captured  a dozen Gold Gloves for his play in right field, where the wall at PNC Park is called the Roberto Clemente Wall. I was listening to the broadcast the day Mets’ rookie lefty Jon Matlack gave up Clemente’s 3,000th hit. Only some 13,000 locals were at 3 Rivers Stadium to see it, though millions presumably claim they were there now, particularly once they have a few Iron City beers under their belts. It could have happened the night before against another future Hall of Famer, Tom Seaver. However, Clemente’s infield grounder went as an error on Mets’ second baseman Ken Boswell  allowing Matlack to become a historical footnote.

While Matlac may not have read his paper that morning, (he didn’t know Clemente had  2,999 hits to that point,) he had met Clemente a year before. Matlack played winter ball in Puerto Rico, and one night he was one of the lucky few invited to visit Clemente. The guys gathered in Clemente’s trophy room, as 30 years later I would be part of a gathering in a press room to listen to Bob Feller hold court. With equal respect the minor leaguers listened to the baseball king of the island. Matlack picked up one of Roberto’s bats, as 30 years later I would touch one of Babe Ruth’s bats with equal reverence. Matlack said he could hardly pick up Roberto’s bat, and in that moment he knew the strength of his future foe. I remember holding Ruth’s bat and summing it up-“This bat  means business.”  Clemente and Matlack faced off 6 times before Sept. 30, 1972 with Matlack coming out the better each time. But not on that dreary fall day. Matlack spun a curve. Pitchers know what happens to curves that spin or hang. They look like Joe Frazier’s chin would look to George Foreman the following January, and they get pounded as savagely.

As large and wide-ranging as my baseball audio collection is, I don’t have that wallbanger off a Matlack curve.  If I had I’d transcribe the call for you. Only God knew that would be Clemente’s last hit. On New Year’s Eve, as 1972 passed into 1973, Clemente passed from this world to a higher league, dying in a plane crash off the coast of Puerto Rico. What turned out to be his “Mission Impossible,” began as a mercy mission to send relief supplies to Nicaragua, which had felt Mother Nature’s wrath in the form of an earthquake on Dec. 23, 1972. Those who knew him best knew this was the sort of mission their hero couldn’t turn down. He tried to do what he could in a small way for suffering people, be they crippled children around Pittsburgh or other young Latin Americans signed by the Pirates. In his last few years, he stayed with the minor leaguers rather than in big league camp. He did this to help them learn the basics of English, as tutors weren’t offered to young players then.

Clemente’s death gained him respect he didn’t always get while he was alive. The Hall of Fame waived the five year wait to induct him into Cooperstown, only the second time this had been done. The other was also the result of tragedy-the death at 37 of Lou Gehrig. 30 years later, in 2002 MLB began Roberto Clemente Day. But this needs more publicity every year and more young fans need to know the on- and off-field greatness that was Roberto. But that’s just baseball as I see it.


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