Clemente Musical a Hit at Gala Theatre

Baseball Star's Life and Legacy Celebrated

Stacy M. Brown | 5/2/2013, 9:32 p.m.

Washington, D.C., resident Alexandra Linn Desauiniers, who portrays an avid baseball fan in the musical, said it's an honor for her to have been included in the production. "We have some in the cast who are old enough to remember [when] Clemente [played] and then those, like myself, who are not, but it's a stunning concept and the audience really responds," said Desauiniers, 24.

Clemente, who was once stationed in Washington, D.C., to complete his commitment in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves, was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1954, eight years after the Brooklyn Dodgers signed Robinson.

Clemente, considered one of the greatest players in history, delivered the decisive blow in the Pirates' 1971 World Series victory over the Baltimore Orioles, which proved to be one of his defining moments and forever sealed his legacy as baseball's top clutch player. During a career that spanned 18 years, he compiled 3,000 hits, 240 home runs, 1,305 RBIs, and a .317 batting average.

His Pirates won two world championships and Clemente appeared in 15 All-Star games, snagged 12 gold gloves, four batting titles, a league Most Valuable Player honor and a World Series Most Valuable Player award.

"Off the field, he built such a reputation as a humanitarian who had so much passion for helping [others]," said his oldest son, Roberto Clemente Jr., who currently lives in Puerto Rico but traveled to the States with family members and friends to attend the play's premiere on April 18.

Baseball would never be the same.

On New Year's Eve in 1972, Clemente boarded a plane to deliver supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua.

The baseball star was upset that three previous deliveries that he had personally financed had been confiscated by corrupt government officials. This time, he decided to travel with the shipment of supplies to ensure that those who needed help would receive it.

Shortly after take off from San Juan International Airport in Puerto Rico, the DC-7 aircraft that carried Clemente, then 38, plummeted into the waters off of Isla Verdes, killing the baseball star and four others aboard the plane.

His son remembers their last conversation.

"He said, 'I'll see you when I get back,'" said Clemente Jr., 48. "And, I said, 'No, I'm never going to see you again.' I was sure about what I was saying and I look back and wish I could have done something else [or talked my father out of going on the trip]. But, I was seven years old, what else could I do?"

Shortly after he died, the baseball Hall of Fame inducted Clemente, the first Latino so honored. He joined Lou Gehrig as the only member not required to wait five years after retirement or death to be inducted.

Clemente's death led some sports writers to call it, "The Day the Music Died," for baseball fans. "Even if you didn't have a chance to see Clemente play, it chokes you up," said Yahoo! Baseball writer, David Brown. "It certainly makes you wonder what might have been, if he had lived. The first big star from Latin America, he is considered a Jackie Robinson-type figure to many," said Brown, 52.

The late slugger has been the recipient of many posthumous honors.

Born Roberto Clemente Walker, statues of the star and parks named in his honor are located in numerous cities, including Newark, N.J., New York City, Puerto Rico and Pittsburgh.

"For me, as a black man in Puerto Rico, it is very important that we don't forget that Puerto Ricans come in every size, shape and color," Lacén said. "I am just honored to be able to tell his story after all of these years. I'm very proud of that."

Single tickets for the show are $38 on Thursdays & Sundays; $42 Fridays & Saturdays. Student and military tickets are $20; and tickets for Senior Citizens (65+) are $26. Additional discounts are available for groups of 10 or more.

For tickets or more information about the musical, which runs 2 hours and 20 minutes, call 800-494-8497, or visit www.galatheatre.org.