Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Clemente's death brought life to Pirates' Walker

Neil Walker, who plays for the surging Pittsburgh Pirates, is a fan of Pirates legend Roberto Clemente. Walker is getting married in December. The rehearsal dinner is being held at the Clemente Museum, adorned with artifacts from Clemente's life and career.

None of this information, which appeared in a story by Bob Nightengale in Tuesday's USA Today newspaper, seems out of the ordinary. But one quote from Walker stood out. "I owe everything in my career, really, my whole life to Roberto Clemente," Walker said.

Clemente died more than a decade before Walker was born. But here are the chilling details of how the lives of Walker and Clemente became unequivocally linked.

On Dec. 31, 1972, Walker's father, a former major league pitcher, was in Puerto Rico helping Clemente load relief supplies on a plane bound for earthquake-stricken Nicaragua. When Tom Walker began to board the plane, Clemente told him to stay behind and enjoy the New Year's Eve party.

The plane never made it to Nicaragua. It caught fire in midair and crashed, killing Clemente and four others.

"If not for (Clemente), I wouldn't be here today," said Walker. "I'd sure love to make him proud now."

Clemente's gesture saved Tom Walker's life, and 13 years later his son, a future major leaguer, was born. The fact that Neil Walker now wears a Pirates uniform ... makes you wonder, doesn't it?

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