By: Chris Blumenstetter

Selflessness of Roberto Clemente Spares Neil’s Progenitor


Fateful Decision Gives Tom Walker Reprieve, Benefits Mets

The date was December 31st, 1972. Roberto Clemente, whose full name happens to be Roberto Clemente Walker, was a perennial All Star and famous philanthropist who was spending his New Years Eve in his native Puerto Rico packing a plane with relief supplies headed for then earthquake ravaged Nicaragua. Instead of celebrating the genesis of another year in the celebratory town of San Juan, Clemente was focused on personally escorting the relief goods himself to make sure they did not fall into the notoriously corrupt hands of the Nicaraguan government under the Somoza Family.

Some of you may remember the group that overthrew Somoza in 1979; the Sandinista’s, from your earliest video gaming experience.  The Sandanistas were toppled by the democratically aided Contrarrevolución (Counter-revolution), or the CONTRA for short from the Nintendo Game. Nicaragua was a hotbed of political posturing during the Cold War.

Clemente did not load the plane alone. His generous spirit rubbed off on his winter ball teammates and he enlisted their help to expedite the process. One player, Tom Walker, felt particularly inspired to assist his friend and mentor with his mission. Walker was a young relief pitcher (ironically enough) who connected with Clemente because of the shared nomenclature among other things.

Tom Walker, the father of long time Pittsburgh Pirate and now scalding New York Met Neil Walker, wished to accompany Clemente to Nicaragua and assist in the relief effort. “No,” Clemente told Walker “You need to go and party, it’s New Years Eve”. The rest is history, as the plane crashed just moments after takeoff, killing all aboard.

This story garnered national headlines in 2013 when the MLB Network highlighted it in a documentary that commemorated the 40th anniversary of the death of Clemente. Prior to a 2012 ceremony at PNC Park in Pittsburgh that was dedicated to Clemente’s 3,000th hit, Neil Walker stated “I feel fortunate that Dad didn’t get on that plane. The memory of Clemente has been a big part of our life.”

In just one short month, Neil Walker has made the memories of the player he supplanted seem quite distant. His eight April round-trippers trail only three Mets in the history of the franchise for April homers (Kingman in ’76, Delgado in ’06, and Buck in ’13 all hit nine). His impressive start and hard nosed play are a perfect addition to the Mets lineup and clubhouse.  His ear to ear grin and vivacious optimism seem to be contagious. In a postgame interview Monday night, after slugging what ended up being the game winning homer, he credited his ‘positive attitude’ that helps keep him going through any rough patch.

Based on the fortunate occurrence of his birth that occurred thirteen years AFTER his father avoided imminent peril, Neil Walker has plenty to be optimistic and positive about thanks to the actions of Roberto Clemente Walker.

Quotes obtained through this Documentary, worth a watch!

About Chris Blumenstetter

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