Ray Negron's Playball Weekly Blog

As a Yankee, Clemente made me proud.

As a Yankee batboy, I was dreaming of the day that I would possibly be drafted by the team I was working for, the Yankees.

Everyday I would get to the clubhouse very early so that I would complete my chores before batting practice started. I would have all the towels folded, all the underwear’s in each players locker, the equipment in the dugout and I would be ready for Thurman Munson’s hamburger run to McDonald’s.

By 2:30 I would be at the batting cage hoping that coaches Elston Howard and Dick Howser would let me have a few swings. Unless there were too many players needing extra hitting I usually got my wish.

I remember George Steinbrenner always telling me that someday I might be the Yanks shortstop and that would really excite me.

The year was 1974 and we were playing our home games at Shea Stadium because Yankee Stadium was being renovated. On one particular day I was taking ground balls with Baltimore Orioles shortstop and gold glove winner Mark Belanger. The batter in the cage was Boog Powell, a big brawny home run hitter. He hit a vicious one hopper to my left and miraculously I made a great play on it. Even though there was a lot of luck involved, I played it as if I did that all the time. When I came off the field after batting practice two gentlemen were by the dugout calling me over. One was a Pirate scout named Howie Haak and the other was the assistant Pirates general manager named Pete Peterson. They asked me a bunch of questions and took my telephone number and said they would be in touch. In a stadium news travels fast and that information got to Mr. Steinbrenner. The next day when I got to Shea the Yankees farm director at the time was a guy named Pat Gillick. As you know Gillick would go on to become a famed World Champion general manager and Hall of Famer. That day Gillick was there under orders from the Boss to take me to a back field behind Shea and thoroughly work me out and give the Boss a report. After the work out Gillick told Mr Steinbrenner that he would take me in the 10th round. The Boss asked him if I would still be available and Gillick told him that he was being generous with that pick. The Boss told Gillick that he better not mess this up.

When I got home that night there was a message from Pirates scout Dutch Doitz that I was to meet him and former Pirates pitcher Fred Cambria at Aly Pond Park in Queens.

I remember it being a Saturday morning and the Yanks were on the road. What I knew about the guy (Cambria)that was going to pitch me a simulated game was that two years before he beat the great Tom Seaver in a 2 – 1 game at Shea Stadium. I also knew that he had some arm problems and was hoping to make a comeback.

He threw me an assortment of pitches including curveballs and fastballs and I think I put on a very good show that day. They hit me a ton of ground balls and then had me run a few 60 yard dashes with my best time being 6.7 seconds. After that he came to a few of my games. I was playing for probably four different teams. The last time that Dutch came to see me play I was playing for the Long Island Mets against the Flushing Tigers. I was actually on both of Thier rosters but that day I chose to play for the Mets because the guy pitching for the Tigers was probably the best pitcher in the city. His name was Don Cooper who would later pitch in the big leagues for the Twins and Yankees.

I had two at bats versus Cooper. The first time I hit two line drives foul then he threw me a very wicked curveball that I took for strike three. The second time I was not going to wait around. I knew he would start me off with a fast ball and I went right after it and hit a double down the left field line.

After the game Dutch told me that he had seen enough and in his report he would recommend that they draft me as high as possible.

In my wildest dreams I never thought that I would get drafted in the second round. I really thought that I would be a Yankee. I was happy because I was going to be a professional baseball player but I was sad because in my heart I knew that I was a Yankee.

The first person to call me was Mr Steinbrenner wishing me good luck and he even had me come to Fort Lauderdale and work out with the Yankees before minor league camp started. He also said that he couldn’t believe that Pat Gillick could mess this up. I laughed to myself because Gillick was not wrong. His evaluation was dead on. I just happened to be at my very best at the right time. Or maybe the wrong time because it caused me a chance to be picked by my dream team, the Yankees.

When I reported to Pirate City in Bradenton Florida I had very mixed emotions. I had gotten spoiled because nothing but nothing was the Yankees. However when I walked into the lobby of the Pirate office and saw the giant portrait of the great Roberto Clemente my heart started to beat really fast. This all of a sudden became a movie. I was sent to the locker room and more Clemente memorabilia. Then as I stood on line to be measured for a uniform, there was a Clemente uniform on the wall. The uniforms were hanging on a rack and that day I got to pick uniform number one because I loved Billy Martin. I walked back to my locker sat down and just stared at the name in the front of the uniform, Pirates.

I thought about all the hard work that it took just to get here. I thought about how Roberto Clemente actually sacrificed his life to help those in need because he knew he had been blessed because of baseball. I thought about the fact that even though I would never get to be a Yankee , it was the Yankees that would actually open up the door for me to fulfill my dream of becoming a professional baseball player. As always it was George Steinbrenner’s belief in me that paved the way.
Most importantly it’s Gods master plan for how things are supposed to be. In my short time with the Pirates I learned about the greatness of Roberto Clemente. I learned about his heart his soul and his inspiration. I learned from Willie Stargell and Manny Sanguillen and Doc Ellis about the love that Clemente had for the game and how it was so important for him to be able to help all in need. I never met Clemente but by being a Pirate for a little while I have always felt as if we were related.

Today is the start of Hispanic heritage month and also Roberto Clemente day in the Major Leagues. I salute Major League Baseball for not forgetting the greatness and Importance in the role that people like Roberto Clemente have played not just in baseball, but in life.

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