ST. LOUIS — Vera Clemente turned and put her arm around Carlos Beltran.
"You," she told him, "are the pride of all Puerto Ricans."
That's something she would know about. Vera is the widow of baseball icon Roberto Clemente. She was sitting next Beltran on Saturday night because Major League Baseball was awarding the St. Louis Cardinals right fielder with the annual Roberto Clemente Award, honoring a player for his positive contributions on and off the field.
Roberto Clemente was — and is, really, there's enough room for two — the pride of Puerto Rico. He died in December 1972 at age 38, still an active MLB player, an All-Star and Gold Glove winner the prior season. Killed in a plane crash while delivering supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua, Clemente is remembered as not only one of the game's great players, but its great humanitarian's too.
Beltran is the third Puerto Rican player, joining Edgar Martinez and Carlos Delgado.
Beltran's family gathered during the award ceremony, taking up a few rows of seating. One woman wore Beltran's Puerto Rico jersey from the World Baseball Classic. They took pictures. A couple streamed ceremony via Facetime to, presumably, another family member or friend. Cardinals manager Mike Matheny even ducked in and stood in the back while Beltran accepted the award.
"When I was a kid," Beltran said. "I always wanted to be like [Clemente] in one way, meaning having the opportunity to play baseball, having the opportunity to give back."
He established the Carlos Beltran Baseball Academy in Puerto Rico in 2011, and this season used an off day to travel there to personally hand diplomas to members of his academy's first graduating class.
The academy doesn't just teach baseball, but it's a school too, with 43 students in the first graduating class.
"The most important thing for me was academics," said Beltran, 36. "Having the opportunity to educate kids. Through baseball you can have education. And at the same time the game of baseball is a game that comes and go, but education is something that stays with you for the rest of your life."
Beltran said the Clemente Award is the biggest honor of his baseball career, though that could change here soon if his Cardinals beat the Boston Red Sox in the World Series. It's Beltran's first time playing in the World Series in his 16-year career.
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