Donning Clemente’s No. 21, Rays field MLB’s first all-Latino lineup

Donning Clemente’s No. 21, Rays field MLB’s first all-Latino lineup

Published September 16, 2022
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Adam Berry

TORONTO — The number 21 was seemingly everywhere you looked on the field at Rogers Centre on Thursday afternoon. Specifically, it was everywhere up and down the Rays’ starting lineup.

Half of Tampa Bay’s roster, including all nine hitters who started the series finale against the Blue Jays, donned the number that famously belonged to Roberto Clemente. It was a fitting day for a historic moment.

History on Roberto Clemente Day!The Rays starting lineup featured all Latin American-born players, the first time in MLB history.

According to the Rays, it was the first time in Major League history that a team’s lineup was made up entirely of Latino hitters. Their starting lineup included players from Cuba (Yandy Díaz and Randy Arozarena), the Dominican Republic (Wander Franco, Manuel Margot and Jose Siri), Colombia (Harold Ramírez), Venezuela (David Peralta and René Pinto) and Mexico (Isaac Paredes). The Elias Sports Bureau confirmed it was the first time all nine hitters in a starting lineup were born in a Latin American country.

And they were all wearing No. 21 to celebrate Clemente as part of MLB’s annual Roberto Clemente Day, which honors the life and legacy of the Hall of Fame player and humanitarian who recorded 3,000 hits on the field and tragically died in a plane crash on Dec. 31, 1972, while attempting to deliver emergency relief supplies to Nicaragua.

Proud to wear 2️⃣1️⃣For the first time in @MLB history, all hitters in today’s starting lineup are Latin American.

A native of Puerto Rico and a trailblazer for all Latino players, Clemente was the first player from Latin America to be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Everyone who spoke of him on Thursday, however, offered a reminder that he remains an icon for his generosity off the field as much as anything he accomplished on the field during his 18-year career with the Pirates.

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“It’s a very important day for us, because he’s special for every Latin guy. He’s like Jackie Robinson for us,” said Ramírez, who learned a lot about Clemente while coming up through Pittsburgh’s Minor League system. “Everybody was talking about him. They feel proud of him because of everything he did inside and outside of baseball.”

Every player and coach on the Rays and Blue Jays wore a No. 21 patch on their sleeves. Toronto players Bo Bichette, José Berríos and George Springer and third-base coach Luis Rivera put aside their typical uniforms to wear No. 21 as well.

“I think he means something to everybody,” said Springer, who chose to wear No. 21 because his mother is from Puerto Rico. “The player he was and where he comes from, obviously, being of Puerto Rican descent is pretty cool. But it’s more about who he was as a person. That’s why we do it.”

As part of the league-wide recognition of Roberto Clemente Day, all Clemente Award nominees and previous award winners were able to wear No. 21 on Thursday, as were players of Puerto Rican descent and others who wore the number during last year’s commemoration. Additionally, everyone in Thursday’s Pirates-Mets game in New York wore No. 21.

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The Rays requested special permission from MLB to take it a step further, however. Last year, only third-base coach Rodney Linares and Roberto Clemente Award nominees Nelson Cruz and Ryan Yarbrough wore the “21” jerseys. In Spring Training, Linares said, multiple Latin American players asked to join in on the celebration.

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“Our guys were pretty passionate about it and said, ‘Look, we want to represent it in our own way,’” Rays manager Kevin Cash said.

“It’s really, really special,” Linares added. “I think it’s something that we’re really proud of.”

Thus, 14 Rays players and their two base coaches — Linares and Chris Prieto — took the field wearing No. 21 in Thursday’s series finale. That list includes Yarbrough and every Latino player on the roster: Jonathan Aranda, Arozarena, Christian Bethancourt, Díaz, Franco, Javy Guerra, Margot, Francisco Mejía, Paredes, Peralta, Pinto, Ramírez and Siri.

“He was a role model to everyone,” Margot said through interpreter Manny Navarro. “I think what he did was definitely open the doors for all the Latinos — what he did for his humanitarian services, what he did off the field and what he did for the community and for the people.”

Sea cual sea nuestra procedencia,

The Rays will celebrate Roberto Clemente Day, along with the start of Hispanic Heritage Month, when they return to Tropicana Field on Friday. The Blue Jays did so on Thursday by showing a pregame video on the Rogers Centre scoreboard, featuring highlights of Clemente’s life and thoughts from Berríos, Springer and Rivera on his legacy.

Finally, Toronto recognized Bichette — their nominee for this year’s Clemente Award — in an on-field ceremony.

“I think, obviously, we don’t do the things we do for the recognition, but I think it’s good to bring awareness to other people, giving ideas to other people in my business, people that can help,” said Bichette, who has volunteered at a local homeless shelter in his hometown of St. Petersburg and sponsored baseball camps in his community. “My biggest thing is just helping people who don’t have the same opportunities as I do.”