Kiké Hernández honors Roberto Clemente after home run in Dodgers’ win over Arizona
Kiké Hernández wasn’t sure words such as honor and pride were enough, or if language existed to convey the depth of his feelings.
Instead, he used the diamond as his canvas and his bat as the paint brush, honoring his native Puerto Rico’s preeminent sporting idol in perhaps the most profound way possible.
On Roberto Clemente Day, Hernández homered in his first at-bat, sending a high fly ball into the left-field seats in the second inning of the Dodgers’ 6-4 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks. A two-run 10th inning was fueled by RBIs from Chris Taylor and AJ Pollock.
Like other Puerto Rican MLB players on Wednesday, Hernández wore Clemente’s No. 21 on his jersey. After he crossed the plate, he patted the number and pointed to the sky.
“It was great, very fitting,” manager Dave Roberts told SportsNet LA minutes later. “To get him a start, get him in there to wear 21, homer — and I know he gave a little something as he crossed home plate — very happy for Kiké.”
Hernández was more than happy to honor one of his heroes.
Almost half a century after Clemente’s death, when his plane loaded with supplies en route to Nicaragua to help earthquake victims crashed in the ocean on New Year’s Eve in 1972, the legacy of baseball’s first Latin American Hall of Famer is still held high.
“It’s special,” said Edwin Ríos, who also wore 21 as the Dodgers’ only other Puerto Rican player. “As a Puerto Rican, you grow up looking up to Roberto Clemente for everything he did and what he stands for.
“I don’t want to say [he was] the perfect human, but he put everybody else before himself. He died to go take food and clothes to people in Nicaragua. It’s crazy the person he was. If I can be half the person he was, I think I’ll be OK.”
Words and remembrances, however, capture only so much of Clemente’s greatness. Actions speak volume too. And an increasing number of voices inside the sport, Hernández and Ríos included, are pushing for more permanent methods to memorialize Clemente.
Major League Baseball is finalizing a postseason format in which teams would move into bubbles in Southern California and Texas after the first round.
Hernández on Wednesday repeatedly tweeted the hashtag #Retire21, supporting the movement around baseball to retire Clemente’s number league-wide.
Ríos also supported that idea and said during a pregame video call that he wished all MLB players wore 21 on Wednesday, not just Puerto Rican players and members of the Pittsburgh Pirates, the team with which Clemente spent his entire 18-year, 3,000-hit, 15-time-All-Star career.
“But,” Ríos added, “this is a start. Hopefully in the coming years, we’ll be able to have every team wear his number on this day.”
Roberts also believed the idea, which would be similar to how baseball honors Jackie Robinson, deserves further consideration.
“Latin players, not only Puerto Rican players, identify with Roberto Clemente,” Roberts said. “You look at the landscape of Major League Baseball now, Latin American players a big part of it and why this industry has flourished. I probably don’t know enough, but I really hope we consider as an industry to retire Roberto Clemente’s number not only because of what he did for baseball when he was playing, but even currently.”
Players around the MLB on Wednesday will be wearing No. 21 in honor of Roberto Clemente Day. Here’s what you need to know about the Hall of Famer.
Dodgers could open postseason at home
MLB is finalizing a postseason format in which the first round would be held in home ballparks before the rest of the playoffs move to a bubble format, two people familiar with the league’s discussions about postseason planning told The Times.
Such a plan would see the Dodgers begin the playoffs with a best-of-three wild card series at Dodger Stadium if they, as expected, finish the season as a top-four seed in the National League.
After that, the MLB postseason could move into a bubble format with NL games in Texas and American League games hosted in Southern California.
Times staff writer Bill Shaikin contributed to this report.
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