With nearly 400,000 inhabitants, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is home to the fifth-largest Puerto Rican population in the United States, behind only New York, Florida, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. It was only fitting that the Worcester Red Sox dedicated an entire Wepas night to celebrating Puerto Rico's traditions and culture,
With nearly 400,000 inhabitants, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is home to the fifth-largest Puerto Rican population in the United States, behind only New York, Florida, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. It was only fitting that the Worcester Red Sox dedicated an entire Wepas night to celebrating Puerto Rico's traditions and culture, and there was no better day than August 18 – the birthday of the late Roberto Clemente, one of the most influential baseball players in history.
"The Great One" was born in the Anton neighborhood of the city of Carolina in Puerto Rico and played baseball all his life. He first signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1954 with a minor league contract for $10,000. However, the rules of that time established that any player with a signing bonus of more than $4,000 had to belong to a major league team. Clemente ended up signing with the Pittsburgh Pirates, where he played from 1955 to 1972. He was a 15-time All-Star, 2-time World Series champion, National League MVP, World Series MVP, 12-time Gold Glove winner and 4-time National League Batting Champion. His impressive list of accolades was enough for the Pirates to retire his mythical number, 21.
The Puerto Rican native suffered firsthand the adversities of American segregation in the '50s, having to stay in hotels, eat in restaurants, and travel in exclusive means of transport for people of color. Also, because he comes from a Latin American country, "The Great One" did not have the affection of the press, and due to his passionate personality, he was involved in heated arguments with some managers and was the victim of ridicule due to his strong accent when speaking English. Despite this, the baseball world agreed that his plays were close to perfection.
Clemente had many accomplishments on the diamond, but his work outside of baseball created a legacy that endures to this day. On December 23, 1972, an earthquake shook the city of Managua, the capital city of Nicaragua. Clemente decided to send a shipment of aid for the victims, and he was aboard the plane that transported the aid to ensure that it reached its destination and fell in the right hands. On the night of December 31, 1972, the plane that took off from Puerto Rico collapsed a few meters after leaving the island, ending the lives of all passengers. Reports indicate that the accident was due to overloading on board.
Only 8 months after his death, Clemente became the first Latin American to be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame with 92.63% of the vote. In his induction ceremony, the "Roberto Clemente Award" was presented, which to this day continues to be given to players for their community work and is considered the most prestigious award outside of a World Series ring.
With all this context, it was not difficult for the WooSox to decide what would be the date to celebrate Puerto Rico Night at Polar Park as part of the Copa de la Diversión, a minor league initiative that promotes the sport and connects teams with local Hispanic/Latino communities. For these games, teams adopt a culturally-relevant identity and personality.
As is tradition, DJ Jensky started the party in the DCU Plaza at Gate D. On the diamond, the Bomba & Salsa group presented a traditional Puerto Rican dance performance for all attendees and gave an intro to the anthem ceremony. Linette Benson sang "La Borinqueña," Puerto Rico's National Anthem, followed by Deborah Feliciano's version of the Star-Spangled Banner.
Amanda Bogoslofski, Liam Berube, and Worcester City Manager Eric Batista threw Ceremonial First Pitches.
Latino representation was present in Polar Beverages' Heart of Worcester ceremony, with Inquilinos Boricuas en Acción--a non-profit organization from South Boston dedicated to protecting people in vulnerable housing situations--and its CEO Vanessa Calderón-Rosado in attendance.
"Housing in Massachusetts is very expensive and in Boston, where we are located, even more," Calderón-Rosado said in an interview with Michael Smithers and Andrés Hernández, WooSox commentators. "It is a great pride to belong to this community, and thanks to civil mobilization, we have been able to reach almost 700 homes belonging to Inquilinos Boricuas en Acción for people who need housing at an affordable price."
Devante Bailey took the Rodenhiser Game Ball to the Mound, and Jaeviel Baez shouted Play Ball! presented by Webster Five.
The Wepas uniforms brought luck again to the Worcester Red Sox. With Kyle Barraclough on the hill and a home run by the Dominican native Enmanuel Valdez and a pair of runs towed by Venezuelan native Wilyer Abreu, the WooSox beat the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders, a Triple-A team affiliated with the New York Yankees, 3-1.