Today was one of those days, where an incident involving a dog, an air mattress, and Home Depot found me on my way to a pool supply store in Newark … I know that doesn’t make much sense, but all you need to know was that I was going into an unfamiliar neighborhood a few miles from my home.
As I approached the pool supply store on the left side of Bloomfield Avenue, just past Branch Brook Park, I noticed a sculpture of Roberto Clemente at the entrance to the park, and realized I had read about this in the newspaper some time ago. The sculpture is approximately 8 feet tall, and according to what I read, is slightly smaller but otherwise identical to the sculpture that Susan Wagner created for PNC Park in Pittsburgh, the city where Clemente played all 18 of his Major League seasons. For this exact reason – that Clemente was a Pittsburgh Pirate and had no obvious connection to Newark – is what made the newspaper story stick in my memory, because I thought it was somewhat odd to commission and unveil a sculpture of him in New Jersey.
At the time that the sculpture was unveiled in Newark, there was a parade as well as an appearance by Clemente’s son, Luis Roberto Clemente, who commented: “I had no idea my father was so alive in Newark.” This project was initially the idea of Luis Lopez, founder of Newark’s Roberto Clemente Little League and a key figure on the Clemente monument committee. Despite the lack of connection between Clemente and Newark, it seems it’s simply the international appeal of Clemente, who was known not only as a great baseball player but also for his unfortunate death at 38 years old, while he was en route to Nicaragua to deliver humanitarian aide to earthquake victims when his plane crashed off Puerto Rico.
While the view of the sculpture at the entrance to the park is nice, the view from the sculpture’s perspective is not so great: poor Roberto (and any person standing next to this sculpture) just gets to look at a Meineke store and an empty lot for the foreseeable future.
Here’s a few more looks at the Clemente sculpture, below. The plaque includes this quote by Roberto Clemente: “Any time you have an opportunity to make a difference in this world and you don’t, then you are wasting your time on Earth.” The plaque then proceeds to state that Clemente is the first Latin American player in the Baseball Hall of Fame, and “is revered as much for his character as for his athletics.” Here’s to you, Roberto: