The Life of Roberto Clemente

A statue of Clemente outside of PNC Park in Pittsburgh.
Sriram Bala, via Flickr

Who is your sport hero? Robin Basselin and Ryan Geertsma share the tragic, inspiring story of baseball player Roberto Clemente.

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Voice 1 

Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Robin Basselin.

Voice 2 

And I’m Ryan Geertsma. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

Voice 1 

The year is 1944. A group of boys stands in a field near the town of Carolina, Puerto Rico. A young boy named Roberto Clemente runs to join his friends. These boys are about to play their favorite sport – baseball.

Voice 2 

Quickly, the boys separate into two teams. They imagine they are expert players. That they are playing in “las ligas grande” or baseball’s major leagues. One team has a pitcher. This player throws the baseball to Clemente.  Clemente is the batter. He is holding a long, thin piece of wood called a bat. Clemente quickly swings the bat. He hits the ball. The ball flies through the air.  Clemente runs. He steps on first base.  He continues running. He touches the second base and the third. Finally, Clemente touches home base. Clemente has hit a ‘home run.’ And he has earned a run or point for his team.

On that day, young Roberto Clemente imagined he was a great major league baseball player. And many years later he would be. But Clemente was much more than just an expert baseball player. Today’s Spotlight is on the life and work of Roberto Clemente.

Voice 1 

Roberto Clemente was born in Puerto Rico. His father worked on sugar farms. His mother made food for the farm workers. Clemente started working on a sugar farm when he was eight years old. It was difficult work.

Voice 2 

Clemente worked many hours. But he always found time to play baseball. Even when there were no games, people remember that Clemente was always throwing something. He would throw whatever he could find - a bottle top, an old shoe or even a can. For hours, he would throw these things against the wall - again and again and again.

Voice 1 

Years of practice made Clemente a skilled player. When he was 18 years old, he became a professional baseball player. The Santurce Cangrejeros paid him to play baseball for their team. This small or minor league team was in the city of San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Voice 2 

Over the next two years, Clemente played for a few other minor league teams. He moved to the United States and then to Canada to play. In 1954, the Pittsburgh Pirates asked Clemente to play for their team back in the United States. This was a huge honor. Clemente was finally a major league baseball player.

Voice 1

However, playing for the Pirates was not easy at first. Many of the other players treated Clemente poorly. Clemente was different from most of the other team members. Most of the players were white. But Clemente was a black, Latino man from Puerto Rico. Clemente also did not speak English very well.

Voice 2 

Clemente suffered discrimination. But he did not let it affect his attitude or his playing. When a reporter asked him about his situation, he answered:

Voice 3 

“I do not believe in color, I believe in people.”

Voice 1 

Clemente believed all people were equal. And soon, Clemente’s attitude and skill earned him the respect of players, reporters and sports lovers. By 1960, the Pittsburgh Pirates became one of the best teams in baseball. And Clemente was a team leader.

Voice 2 

Clemente often returned home to Puerto Rico. When he was there he spent time teaching young boys about baseball. He taught in many places around Puerto Rico. He also taught in other countries, like Nicaragua. Clemente told Sports Illustrated magazine,

Voice 3 

“When I visit, the children have someone to follow. I show them what baseball has done for me. Maybe they will work more, try more, and become better men.”

Voice 1

On November 14th, 1964, Roberto Clemente’s married Vera Zabala. They later had three sons: Robertito, Luisito and Ricky. Five years after Clemente and Zabala married, Clemente reached one of the greatest honors in baseball. Clemente’s team, the Pittsburgh Pirates, competed in the Baseball World Series. Only the two best teams in Major League Baseball compete in this set of games. Whichever team wins four games first, wins the series.

Voice 2 

On October 17th, 1971, the Pirates were playing against the Baltimore Orioles. It was the final game of the World Series. Everyone thought the Orioles would win - everyone except Roberto Clemente. By this time, Clemente was one of the oldest players on the team. However, he was also still one of the best. Clemente had been hurt all season. And he was very sick that day. But he believed in his skill and in his team. He promised his team that he would lead them to a win. Clemente kept his promise. And at the end of the day, the Pirates were the World champions.

Voice 1 

After winning the World Series, Clemente continued to be a very successful baseball player. But he became famous for more than just his baseball skills. People noticed his character and how he acted. David Condon wrote a book about the life of Roberto Clemente.  In it, he explained,

Voice 4

“Roberto was kind. He cared about other people. He did not act like he was better than other people.”

Voice 2 

On December 23, 1972 there was a major earthquake. It was in Managua, the capital city of Nicaragua. The earthquake destroyed many homes. It killed and injured thousands of people. The surviving people needed food, clothes, and medical supplies. Clemente had visited Managua one month before the earthquake. He knew people there and wanted to help.

Voice 1 

So Clemente organized people and supplies. Three times he sent supplies to Nicaragua. But then he received bad news. Clemente heard that people were lying and stealing the supplies. So, he decided to go to Nicaragua himself. He would give the supplies directly to people who needed them.

Voice 2 

But Clemente never had a chance to give the supplies to the people in Nicaragua. On December 31, 1972, his airplane crashed over the ocean. People searched for Clemente for days. But they never found his body. Clemente was only 38 years old.

Voice 1 

In his life, Roberto Clemente cared about many things. He loved baseball. He loved his country. He loved his family. And he loved helping other people. Clemente gave his life serving others. He died as a hero. His friend Osvaldo Gil told the American Experience television show,

Voice 5 

“If he had died as a baseball player, only people who love sports would remember him. But he died helping other people. And now people will remember him as someone who used his life to help others.”

Voice 2 

The writer of this program was Lauren Anders. The producer was Michio Ozaki. The voices you heard were from the United States. All quotes were adapted and voiced by Spotlight. You can listen to this program again, and read it, on the internet at This program is called, “The Life of Roberto Clemente.”

Voice 1 

We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight program. Goodbye!

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Who is your favorite athlete? What sport does he or she play?


Avatar Spotlight
Carlos Espinoza
said on September 16, 2013

I liked this program, I don’t known that this player existed… Roberto Clemente was a great player and a good person. I think that the players of today must be as him and as his labor.

Luis Piedra's avatar
Luis Piedra
said on September 17, 2013

A oportunity be can write with a step each day.
Thanks Spotlight

Avatar Spotlight
Tianyi Zheng
said on September 18, 2013

I think he is the only one hero in sport.because he is the best baesball player and he is a philanthropist.that is why people gave him a sculpture in the city.

Avatar Spotlight
said on October 22, 2014

I appreciate this program, and I learned more about the great player Roberto Clemente, and about his attitude. I hope that the others players do like him,

Avatar Spotlight
said on November 04, 2014

Very good program. Thank you Spotlight!

Kaleb Kolaibi's avatar
Kaleb Kolaibi
said on August 04, 2016

A baseball isn’t famous spot in east and maybe not known. It’s exciting only in west especially in USA.
My favorite athlete is Inistazia Baflioteshenkva, a Russian player of tennis.
God bless you

aloha's avatar
said on August 09, 2016

thank you Sportlight!
I am reviewing again English skills and i found you, you have many topic so wonderful.
Thanks you again.

Severino Ramos da Silva's avatar
Severino Ramos da Silva
said on September 13, 2016

From: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) (Severino Ramos)
To: spotlight programme
Subject: To answer to the question above
Date: Tuesday 13, September 2016
São Paulo SP Brazil

Dear Robin Basselin, Lauren Anders, Ryan Geertsma, and Michio Ozaki:

At first, I want to thank you to bring us readers and learners of English more one great article. Thanks!
I have many of favorite athletes here in Brazil because the most of them are great athletes to play football, baseball, and others games.

Yours regards,
Severino Ramos

Avatar Spotlight
said on January 14, 2019

Nowadays, my favorite athlete is the soccer player Neymar Jr. He has skills like no other player has. Like many other people, maybe all of us, Neymar Jr. has some problems, but that does not detract from his abilities.