I was a very young kid the first time I remember a sports personality passing away tragically.
In 1971, at the age of seven, I had become very familiar with Roberto Clemente. This was because my mother was such a baseball fan, passed down from grandfather and I am sure that she was instrumental in me watching the 1971 World Series in which Clemente was named MVP after a great performance. At seven years old I was hooked on baseball, hooked on Clemente and the Pirates were my favorite team (important to note the A's were soon my favorite team, then the Dodgers and back to Pirates before finally locking in on the Redbirds).
I would like to say that I vividly remember watching Clemente glide all over the field with such grace and his prowess at bat on the bases but I really do not. I do however remember the events surrounding his disappearance and death.
Clemente spent much of his time during the off-season involved in charity work. When Managua, the capital city of Nicaragua, was affected by a massive earthquake on Saturday December 23, 1972,
Clemente (who had been visiting Managua three weeks before the quake) immediately set to work arranging emergency relief flights. He soon learned, however, that the aid packages on the first three flights had been diverted by corrupt officials of the Somoza government, never reaching victims of the quake.
Clemente decided to accompany the fourth relief flight, hoping that his presence would ensure that the aid would be delivered to the survivors. The airplane he chartered for a New Year's Eve flight, a Douglas DC-7, had a history of mechanical problems and sub-par flight personnel, and it was overloaded by 4,200 pounds. It crashed into the ocean off the coast of Isla Verde, Puerto Rico immediately after takeoff on Sunday December 31, 1972.
A few days after the crash, the body of the pilot and part of the fuselage of the plane were found. An empty flight case apparently belonging to Clemente was the only personal item recovered from the plane. Clemente's teammate and close friend Manny Sanguillén was the only member of the Pirates not to attend Roberto's memorial service. The Pirates catcher chose instead to dive into the waters where Clemente's plane had crashed in an effort to find his teammate. Clemente's body was never recovered.
I remember the news, I remember it real left an impression on me and I remember coming from school each day to scan the paper or watch the news to see if they had perhaps found the great ball player still alive. Of course they did not and I vividly remember that I thought if they did not find his body that maybe he was still alive. I am not sure when I gave up on that hope or really the events after the plane went down I just remember the experience at that time and how it made me feel. I did not remember the part about Sanguillen but that is a great tribute to a fallen teammate.
Fast forward to Oscar Taveras. First of all let me say this loss is different in many ways but it is still a tragedy. Anytime a young person dies, whether they or an athlete or not, it is a tragedy of what if's to be played out over a period of time.
Taveras was no doubt a special talent with a one of the greatest left handed swings you would ever see (just asked Harold Reynolds who raved about it during the playoffs). He had been a great minor leaguer who was just starting to learn to play in the majors and was on his way in 2015 to get his shot at being the Redbirds everyday Right Fielder and effort to blossom into a star.
There was no guarantee that he would every achieve a level of greatness, for every Roberto Clemente there are ten Ty Giffin's, guys who had the talent but for whatever reason they did not make it in the majors or there is an A Rod, Sosa, McGwire or Barry Bonds who have disrespected the game (not for using Roids but for using them and lying about it). The tragedy for Taveras and his family is we will never know. He certainly was a hero in the DR and he certainly could have gone on to greatness in both the world of baseball and that as a humanitarian like Clemente.
St Louis has had some tragedy with their ballplayers over the last several years and they also shook the team and franchise but this one is different to me. It is different because it is partly the result of some bad choices that maybe could have been avoided. There is a lesson to be learned here for us all when a death like this now has an asterisk.
Many of us, myself included, have made these type of bad choices before in our lives but the key is to stop making them at some point so you can live on. Just like with Oscar Taveras there was no guarantee of greatness but one may never realize their full potential without making better decisions.
I recently watched the movie Rush, the story of two Formula One rivals on different paths, which is another great example of different ways one can choose to live their lives and have an influence on how those lives end. Taveras could have learned from this movie as we really all could.
- Follow @KentuckyStoleMyFish if you want to see how crazy fans on in their hate of Kentucky Basketball.
- UK Football is not a disappointment overall but after a 5 and 1 start if they do not get a sixth win that would be a disappointment (Most rational people predicted 4 or 5 wins). Stoops is on the right path and with the stadium renovations this program is taking a big step forward.
- Does this UK basketball team go on to win it all? It is a long season and they can get better but winning that tournament is a tough thing to do no matter how good you are.
- Navy Football is the one that is a bit of a disappoint to me. I thought that 8 or 9 regular season wins were on the menu but they lost a couple they should not have in my opinion. QB Reynolds has been great and he has another year to go.
- I like the trade the Redbirds made with the Braves but St Louis cannot afford to give up anymore of the young arms. They also need a right-handed hitting 1B/3B to spell Adams and Carp on occasion (mainly Adams).
- My four playoff teams, if they win out are FSU, Bama, Mississippi State and fill in the blank at this point. Baylor and TCU have hurt themselves with losses (Baylor beat TCU but lost to WVA) and Oregon is no better than the Buckeyes to me because they lost at home also. Oregon and OSU have the most uptick since they play a conference championship game. Still allot of Football left to be played.