PITTSBURGH – There is a Robert Clemente Statue outside of PNC Park that many Cincinnati Reds walk past on their way inside of the ballpark.
They’ll have a chance to honor Clemente’s legacy Wednesday. It’ll be Roberto Clemente Day across the Major Leagues where all Puerto Rican players can wear No. 21, along with all the Roberto Clemente Award nominees and previous Roberto Clemente Award recipients.
The Reds will have three players wearing No. 21 on Wednesday: Michael Lorenzen, Joey Votto and Mychal Givens.
Lorenzen already wears No. 21 in honor of Clemente. Votto is the Reds’ nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award this year, which is given to a player who “best represents the game of baseball through extraordinary character, community involvement, philanthropy and positive contributions, both on and off the field.” Givens is Puerto Rican and hopes to play for the country in the next World Baseball Classic.
A look inside why all the players are honoring Clemente on Wednesday:
He changed his number from 50 to 21 before the 2016 season after he traveled to Puerto Rico and he met the Clemente family on a mission trip.
“We were at his house actually,” Lorenzen said. “Vera Clemente, his wife, had made us food, we were eating and we were just looking at some cool stuff that he used to wear and just different stuff like that. I was like it’d be so cool if I could wear No. 21 in honor of Roberto Clemente, that’d be awesome. Then we traded Todd Frazier a couple of weeks later. Right when that happened, I was like, ‘wow, I’m going to ask for the number.’ I remember sitting around the table and saying, ‘If I get the chance, do you mind if I wear No. 21 in honor of Roberto?’ She loved it. She loved the idea.
“I have some friends in town from when I went on a mission trip with the Clemente family out in Puerto Rico. They’re in town, so it’ll be nice to see them. It’s going to be extremely special and it’s pretty neat seeing other guys wear the number as we should.”
Lorenzen is in favor of retiring No. 21 across the sport like No. 42 is retired in honor of Jackie Robinson. Clemente was the first Latin player inducted into the Hall of Fame.
“He gave his life trying to help people. We need to put that on a pedestal because it’s something that is extremely admirable. So, yeah, retire his number. It cut his career short. He had an amazing career and he could’ve had a lot longer career as well, so retiring his number I think is a good idea.
“One of my favorite bible verses is ‘Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father in heaven.’ I feel like he really lived that out. That’s someone I’ve always looked up to as a kid. Just watching documentaries and when I ended up becoming someone of faith, I’m like I play this game for a reason. He was someone who lived that out and showed me that you can use this game not just for yourself, but to help others as well. That’s really why I’ve been drawn to him.”
He didn’t have much of a reaction to the news he was named a Clemente Award nominee during a pregame press conference.
“The things that I’m being nominated for, I don’t get excited about people knowing about,” he said.
Votto is honored to wear No. 21. It’ll be the first time in his career he’s worn a number besides 19 and 42.
“He was one of the greatest players of all-time very easily,” Votto said. “He could do everything. He was dynamic. He had a reputation for being the best player alongside of Willie Mays during his career. That was the feedback I received from players that played against him.
“Joe Morgan, to be specific, said he was probably the best non-Willie Mays player. Willie is the greatest player of all-time, maybe. To be in that conversation, Roberto Clemente is clearly an all-time great player. Could do everything. Players that can do everything and play with amazing aggression and did it their entire career are usually my favorite players. Roberto is definitely one of the players that I didn’t get to see that I would’ve absolutely loved to have seen.”
He wore No. 21 last year on Roberto Clemente Day.
“It’s going to be a very happy moment for me growing up on the Puerto Rican side and my great-grandparents,” Givens said. “Pretty much, my great-grandfather, I feel like it’s a tribute to who got me into baseball and always gave me the stories of Roberto Clemente growing up and being one of my idols with Jackie Robinson.
“I wish it comes to the point where we can retire Roberto Clemente’s number like we did Jackie Robinson because the meaning of 21, what he represented and what he did for the Latin community.”