Rod Carew was in disbelief the first time he met Roberto Clemente.
He said he was “living the dream” when he met and played against his childhood hero in baseball’s 1967 All-Star game in Anaheim, five years before Clemente died in a plane crash while trying to aid earthquake victims in Nicaragua.
Their names were together again Tuesday as they were enshrined as the 47th and 48th players in the Hispanic Heritage Hall of Fame at baseball’s All-Star FanFest, also in Anaheim.
“Roberto is an inspiration to all Latins,” Carew said. “I had the opportunity to play against him as a young kid and I was honored.”
Carew was joined on a small stage by Clemente’s widow, Vera, and several baseball greats, including Orlando Cepeda, Manny Mota and Juan Marichal.
“He was always, until the day he died, trying to help the Latin players to be better and more responsible,” Vera Clemente said about her late husband. “He wanted them to achieve as high a level as they could.
“He died the way he lived. When he was a young boy, he was helping people. I know that people will never forget the way he died and the way he lived.”
Clemente, who starred in right field for the Pittsburgh Pirates, was the first Latin player to be named rookie of the year, first to be league most valuable player, and first be World Series most valuable player.
He also was the first Latin player named to baseball’s Hall of Fame, and is the only player to have the five-year waiting period waived since its institution in 1954.
Like many Latin players of his era, he not only faced obstacles based on his color, but also dealt with a language barrier.
“Every time we’re together, we talk about the times and the struggles we went through to get here,” Carew said. “And we persevered.”
Carew is the only Panamanian player to be inducted into baseball’s Hall of Fame. He had a .328 career batting average and had 3,053 hits and 1,015 runs batted in.
Those kind of numbers aren’t commonplace, but because of the hard work of players such as Carew and Clemente, the Latin player has become much more common in Major League Baseball.
“Before, unless you played every day as a Latin player, you weren’t going to play in the big leagues,” Carew said.
Latin players now make up about 30% of the league’s players, with many of them starring for their clubs.
That all started with Clemente and the hand he lent to players such as Carew.
“If we can continue to have other youths do this and persevere and let them see that they can do what they want to do with their lives,” Carew said, “then this is all worth it.”