Originally created 08/27/99

Another Clemente thriving



PITTSBURGH -- The number isn't the same -- it's 12, or 21 turned backward -- but the name is: Clemente.

In Pittsburgh, there is no more famous name in sports -- or a name more difficult to live up to. Even for a visiting player. Even for Roberto Clemente's nephew.

For the first time in 27 years, a player named Clemente played major league baseball in Pittsburgh, catching fly balls in the very outfield where Roberto played, batting in the very batter's box where Roberto Clemente stood before getting his 3,000th hit nearly 27 years ago.

To rookie center fielder Edgard Clemente of the Rockies, playing this week in the city where his uncle is revered, in the stadium where his uncle played his final three seasons, was an ethereal, unforgettable experience.

"I saw his statue outside the stadium, I walked across the bridge that is named after him," Clemente said. "The park outside the stadium is named for him, too. He is still a hero in Pittsburgh. How many players have statues? To have a statue, you must be a big player."

Roberto Clemente remains very big in Pittsburgh, where there were more "Clemente 21" jerseys in the stands for Thursday's Rockies-Pirates game than for any current Pirates player.

The statue. The bridge. The legacy. It's almost enough to make a promising young player who has yet to prove himself in the majors wish he had another name. Which Edgard Clemente might have next year.

He dropped his father's last name, Velazquez, to go by his mother's maiden name in tribute to his uncle, who died three years before he was born.

But he may go back to Velazquez next year, now that he has returned the name Clemente to major league baseball.

"Maybe next year, maybe in two years, I will change back," Clemente said. "But I asked my aunt and my cousins if I could keep the name, and they said they didn't mind. As long as I want it."

Clemente asked permission from Vera Clemente, the late Roberto's wife, before changing his name last year in honor of the 25th anniversary of his uncle's Hall of Fame induction. Edgard's mother, Carmen, who was Roberto's sister, and Roberto Clemente's sons also embraced the change. Luis Clemente called Edgard in Pittsburgh to wish him well.

"I was nervous. I was afraid that if I did not do well here that the fans might say something," Clemente said. "But they've been good. When they see my name, they are always very friendly."

A Rockies teammate, pitcher Roberto Ramirez, didn't realize that Edgard Clemente was related to Roberto, thinking he chose the name at random because Roberto Clemente is so revered in Latin American baseball.

"He thought I took it like I might have taken the name McGwire or Sosa because they are popular now," Clemente said. "Like I could have called myself Edgard Sosa."

Edgard, 23, is not the only Clemente in baseball; Roberto Jr. is a Spanish language broadcaster for the New York Yankees, the team his father helped defeat in the 1960 World Series. But Edgard is the first in the Clemente family to play in the majors since his uncle, who died in an airplane crash on Dec. 31, 1972, while transporting relief supplies to earthquake-stricken Nicaragua.

The Rockies are giving Edgard a 50-game trial in center field -- not right field, where Roberto played -- and manager Jim Leyland likes what he sees so far: a live arm and a lively bat. Clemente was 2-for-4 in Colorado's 8-4 loss Thursday and has five homers since returning from the minors on Aug. 9

"He'll probably end up as a corner outfielder, not a center fielder, and he's a free swinger sometimes," Leyland said. "But he can hit."

Truly, he must be a Clemente.