It has taken a quarter of a century, a little luck and the help of some baseball players who weren't even born when it all began, but Hartford is at last completing its tribute to Roberto Clemente. When Clemente—a Pittsburgh Pirate throughout his career but a hero to fans, particularly Hispanic fans, everywhere—was killed in a plane crash on the last day of 1972, members of Connecticut's Hispanic community set out to honor his memory.
In 1973 Joe Grimalt, the owner of radio stations in Hartford and Bridgeport, led a fund-raising drive that brought in $25,000, and a committee commissioned two identical monuments to Clemente. One was installed in Bridgeport's Seaside Park; the other was intended for Hartford. Before it was delivered, however, Grimalt moved to California, leaving the three-foot-tall granite block in what he thought would be the brief care of Bridgeport businessman Luis Hernandez. But no one from Hartford ever came for it. For 25 years it sat in the dirt behind Luis Furniture and Appliance—by chance, just across East Main from the Roberto Clemente housing project.
Two years ago a Bridgeport policeman noticed the stone and contacted the Connecticut Post. A story about the monument caught the eye of Hartford city councilman Luis Ayala, who found a site for the stone in the city's Colt Park. Transporting the 2,000-pound slab was another matter—and that's when the University of Hartford baseball team stepped in. The players arranged for a heavy-equipment company to provide a hoist and truck, and on March 10, the team accompanied the monument on its 50-mile journey to Hartford, where the dedication will take place this spring. "It was a chance to get involved and give back to the community" says coach Bob Nenna. Something of which Clemente would have approved.