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  • Writer's pictureLeigh Gerstenberger

Thoughts of Baseball and Legacy Building

As you may know, Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game was played in Cleveland, OH earlier this month. In the midst of the festivities I received an email from my friend Jim Lupica, Founding Partner of northeast Ohio based Stratos Wealth Partners. His reminiscence entitled “Thoughts of Baseball and Legacy Building” hit a home run with me as he paid tribute to one of my childhood heroes, Roberto Clemente, outfielder extraordinaire for the Pittsburgh Pirates. With special thanks to Jim Lupica I wanted to share his reflections with you this week.

Thoughts of Baseball and Legacy Building

As July comes and goes and we enter the dog days of summer, my thoughts turn to baseball and the pennant races.  I still dream of my Cleveland Indians winning the World Series!!!

Tonight, the playoff race takes a break to showcase baseball’s stars at the Mid-Summer Classic, also known as the All-Star Game. While it can be fun to watch the best and brightest in the sport, I think about who these players are beyond the diamond.

A great example is one of the all-time great Hall of Famers, Roberto Clemente. Clemente was not only an athlete but had a heart of gold and created a legacy of giving within Major League Baseball. Annually, baseball honors his legacy by recognizing one current player with the Roberto Clemente Award for sportsmanship and civic involvement.

Born in Puerto Rico in 1934, and the youngest of seven siblings, Clemente showed great interest and talent for baseball from an early age. Despite his family’s limited resources, he played in the Puerto Rican Professional Baseball League until the age of 16 before moving to Major League Baseball in 1954.

Clemente debuted with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1955. As a Latin American Caribbean player of African descent, he endured discrimination from both the media and teammates. As a child, Roberto was taught never to discriminate against people because of their ethnicity, so he responded on the field by playing with unrivaled passion every time he put on his jersey.

Clemente was truly a great player, but it’s his legacy of civic involvement that stands out most today. His dedication to off-season charity work and humanitarian causes earned him three Presidential medals, including the first Presidential Citizens Medal.

Sadly, it was while working on humanitarian relief efforts that his life tragically ended. The capital of Nicaragua, Managua, experienced a massive earthquake December 23, 1972.

Clemente, who had visited the city three weeks prior, arranged emergency relief flights. The first three aid packages never reached the quake’s victims, after corrupt government officials diverted the aid.

Clemente decided to accompany the fourth aid flight. Unfortunately, the plane crashed into the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Puerto Rico after the engine failed. Roberto’s body was never recovered.

The very next year, Roberto Clemente was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame with 92.7% of the vote. His election is one of only two to occur without the mandatory five-year waiting period after a player’s career has ended. The other was Lou Gehrig.

While Clemente’s life ended prematurely, his legacy lives on. Every year, each Major League club nominates a player for the Roberto Clemente Award. Every nominee and award recipient serves as a reminder and example of Clemente’s incredible generosity and selflessness.

For example, take the 2017 winner, Chicago Cub first-baseman Anthony Rizzo. Rizzo was awarded for his work to help fund the research and treatment of pediatric cancer. His commitment to the cause comes from personal experience. At the age of 18, just as Rizzo began his minor league career, he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Thankfully, with chemotherapy, it went into remission.

In 2012, Rizzo created The Rizzo Family Foundation to help kids and families battling pediatric cancer. He feels that it is not just the patient fighting cancer, it is the entire family fighting. Rizzo hosts numerous events to help raise money for the cause, like the Laugh-off for Cancer, Walk-Off for Cancer, and Cook-Off for Cancer. The most impressive thing Rizzo does, though, is spend time with the kids battling cancer. He regularly visits children at Lurie Children’s Hospital. These are not publicity events staged for the media. Rizzo wants to institute a ‘Hope 44’ program in all Chicago hospitals and in Florida, where he grew up.

Every summer, when we fire up the grill or put our feet up to watch America’s pastime, it’s easy to forget the players are more than athletes. They are human beings – and many of them become even more fascinating when you take time to learn who they are off the field.

That’s why tonight, as we watch the annual Mid-Summer Classic, I’ll be thinking of Roberto Clemente. He not only inspired many with his good deeds but launched a tradition of athletes giving back to their communities.

I have immense appreciation for him and all those who follow in his footsteps!

Have a great summer!

Jim Lupica

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