Rooting for my baseball heroes

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It was one of the most awesome experiences of my childhood.

It happened 50 years ago on an overcast day in Pittsburgh on Sept. 30, 1972.

My Little League team had cheap-seat tickets in right field in Three Rivers Stadium.

My dad and some coaches took us to the game and all of us had one thing on our minds:

Would our hero, Roberto Clemente, get his 3,000th hit that day?

At that time there were only 10 other major league players who had reached that milestone — and we prayed he’d reach it that day.

In the bottom of the fourth inning Clemente crushed a line-drive double and the stadium went wild.

My dad was jumping and shouting as we all were. It wasn’t just a great moment in sports, but a great moment with my dad I will forever cherish.

I don’t follow major league baseball much anymore, in part because my team, the Pirates, haven’t been very good for a very long time.

But I’m following the MLB’s playoffs this year because of one player: New York Yankee superstar Aaron Judge.

Judge recently broke Roger Maris’ American League home run record by hitting 62 in one season.

Barry Bonds, Mark McGuire and Sammy Sosa each hit more than 61 home runs in a season in the late 1990s, but allegations that their slugging power was enhanced by performance-enhancing drugs lead some to conclude that Judge is the true owner of the HR record.

That inside-baseball debate aside, the humbleness Judge displays reminds me of Clemente.

Both Clemente and Judge were blessed with incredible gifts to hit baseballs hard and far and throw them fast and with precision.

Clemente was not boastful in any way about his talents and accomplishments. He thanked God for all he’d been given.

First Things reports that “during the 1972 season, when he was asked if he expected to get his 3,000th hit that year, he said:

“Well, you never know . . . . because God tells you how long you are going to be here, so you never know what can happen tomorrow.”

Clemente would be taken that year on New Year’s Eve in a plane crash off the coast of his native Puerto Rico. He was on his way to deliver relief supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua.

Clemente was much more than one of the greatest baseball players ever.

He was a great human being who used his fame and influence to “open up clinics, schools, charities and an ambitious sports complex in his native Puerto Rico, to help rescue underprivileged and misdirected youth,” reports First Things.

Today Aaron Judge is also using his fame to give back.

Adopted by his school-teacher parents the day after he was born in Sacramento, he praises his parents for giving him good values and a Christian upbringing.

When he slammed his record-breaking home run, he said it was his honor that God put him in a position to do so.
When asked before the season about his baseball future, Judge gave the New York Post an answer Clemente would have given: “It’s all in God’s hands.”

As for charitable endeavors, Judge also is using his fame and fortune to help underprivileged kids from the community where he grew up have a chance to flourish in life.

And that’s why the Yankees slugger has renewed my interest in baseball. I sure hope he gets to showcase his talents in the 2022 World Series.

Copyright 2022 Tom Purcell, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Tom Purcell, creator of the infotainment site ThurbersTail.com, is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review humor columnist. Email him at [email protected]