Honoring 21: Cubs’ Nelson Velázquez proud to take field in honor of relative, Roberto Clemente
PITTSBURGH — As Nelson Velázquez trotted onto the field for Thursday’s series opener against the Pirates, he noticed the number 21 mowed into the lawn in right field.
“It means a lot knowing that Roberto Clemente was an idol and icon for Puerto Rico [and] the Pirates,” the Cubs Puerto Rican outfielder said.
The Pirates were honoring one of the legends of the game and one of the franchise cornerstones Thursday night. MLB celebrated Roberto Clemente Day league-wide last week, but the Pirates were out of town and celebrated “The Great One” in their series opener against the Cubs.
Roberto Clemente Jr. and Roberto Clemente III were on hand as the Pirates honored their Roberto Clemente Award nominee David Bednar.
“The opportunity to play in his city fills my heart, my name, my island with emotion [and] pride and for me it’s something important and big to have that opportunity,” Velázquez said.
For Velázquez the connection to Clemente is more personal than even most Puerto Ricans. Clemente was cousins with Velázquez’s grandfather, so he’s a distant relative of the legendary Pirate. Last week at Wrigley Field, Velázquez wore 21 as MLB allowed Puerto Rican players, Roberto Clemente Award nominees and past winners to wear the number in honor of Clemente.
“It’s my first year in the majors and to have it on my back in honor of Roberto Clemente, having him up high, having him all these years present on his day, for me it’s an important moment and marvelous to have that opportunity,” Velázquez said.
Velázquez carries Clemente’s legacy with pride and it means just a little more around Roberto Clemente Day. That’s because Clemente was just as impressive for his actions off the field as he was for his achievements on them.
“Roberto Clemente meant a lot, not only in baseball, but as a human being,” Velázquez said. “He was a person that loved helping others. He would fly to other places to share necessities with others. For us, he was a person extremely marvelous. He was a person of the people. He was a person that was always available to help anybody.”