Brock, Clemente embody MLB community spirit
Hall of Famer, legend's widow help reach out before Game 2
ST. LOUIS -- Lou Brock is baseball royalty here, and truth be told, the Hall of Famer never needs a reason to go out into the community and bring inspiration to others who revere him.
But if you had told Brock at the start of September that he would be spending Thursday going from event to event as an ambassador for the Cardinals and Major League Baseball, then throwing out the ceremonial first pitch before Game 2 of the World Series at Busch Stadium, he would have given you that funny look he reserved for pitchers who tried to keep him off the bases.
"If it hadn't been for the Cardinals' late-season surge, I wouldn't be throwing out the first pitch, that's for sure," Brock said. "I probably would be looking at TV watching other guys doing it. But it's symbolic of the fact that this is a team effort, this spirit of the St. Louis Cardinals, being a part of Cardinal Nation, having a role to play -- that's what is significant about being in the World Series."
This was a day dedicated by MLB to community service, highlighted by the evening's announcement of the Roberto Clemente Award presented by Chevrolet. The Game 2 initiative followed the Game 1 focus on veterans and military families, and the theme platform will continue with a Game 3 focus on youth and then Game 4's dedication to cancer research and Stand Up To Cancer.
"We are proud to once again dedicate the 2011 Fall Classic to several extraordinary causes," Commissioner Bud Selig said. "As a social institution with important social responsibilities, Major League Baseball is privileged to have the opportunity to raise awareness for these essential issues and highlight the efforts of the heroes throughout our society. We are thrilled to use the global reach of the World Series to support these outstanding initiatives."
At 10 a.m. ET, Brock and Clemente's widow, Vera Clemente, appeared at the Loyola Academy in downtown St. Louis to speak to young students about dreams and community involvement. Then the pair was ushered over to the St. Louis Children's Hospital, where they also spoke and helped dedicate a Starlight Fun Center video gaming unit for kids with illnesses.
For Brock, who won World Series championships with the Cardinals in 1964 and '67, and also played in the '68 Fall Classic, it was an honor to reach out in this way and a special pleasure to be able to share the day with Vera Clemente, MLB's goodwill ambassador. Brock had 3,023 hits and Clemente 3,000, all of them in the National League, and they were teammates in three All-Star Games and natural acquaintances from so many years of playing against each other.
Brock, a commanding presence at 72, stood at the podium at Loyola Academy. Vera sat behind him, and in front of him was a sea of impressionable young faces. He proceeded to tell them all a story and said, "Vera, I don't think I've ever told you this story. 1971 All-Star Game ..." he went on.
"[Clemente] was sitting next to me in the dugout, and after he struck out, he came back, sitting next to me, and he was sort of an expressive type of person. He'd talk to you with his hands. You know how a friend talks with his hands and he hits on you all the time? That's what he was doing to me. He'd say, 'Amigo, amigo, I am going to hit a home run the next time up, because this guy really embarrassed me.' The next time up, he hit a home run.
"Came back next to me, he sat, and this time he really beat me up. He's pounding on me, 'Told you! I told you!' I said, 'Yes, sir. Yes, sir. I know, I saw it.' That was the spirit of Major League Baseball when we played against each other."
The spirit of Major League Baseball is embodied in Brock and Clemente and these kids.
"Certainly it is a big moment in their lives and testimony to what Major League Baseball does in the community," Brock said. "Normally when you get to a school, normally you are talking about a dream. Here at this age, they are small in their own eyes, but they have these big dreams within them. They've got to be pumped out and nurtured to some degree by people like us and like Major League Baseball, and that's what all of this means today, and we're here to help them nurture that."
"For them to experience this was amazing, also to see them in awe with mouths open," said Loyola Academy president Eric Clark. "Our boys are from various backgrounds -- 82 percent of them are at the poverty level or below -- but they have the academic potential to succeed at any of the college preparatory high schools around. So for us to be able to give back to them, have them educated to move on and beyond post-secondary education, has just been a blessing. Hopefully they are learning to give back to the community as well."
At St. Louis Children's Hospital, where more than 100,000 patient visits unfortunately come through the doors annually, Brock and Vera, along with her son, Luis Clemente, spent time with little ones who are battling illnesses and undergoing treatments. They were brought joy on Thursday in the form of these visitors and of the Fun Center, a unit on wheels that can be scooted around the floors right to the bedsides of kids who are sick and not able to get around.
"Major League Baseball and the Cardinals have been such good friends to St. Louis Children's Hospital," said vice president of Children's Hospital Foundation Janice Bailey. "In 2009 when the All-Star Game was here, they donated one of these Fun Centers, and it was a huge hit for our kids and our families who are here. These can go on the floors, which is such a great deal on wheels for kids who may be here in the cancer unit who can't leave their floor because they are too sick. They actually get to have a distraction from their medical treatment instead of coming down to the play room and having it here. It's been a wonderful addition to our traveling systems and games."
All the kids on the floor were given special World Series gift bags, including stuffed Fredbird mascots, and Brock and the Clementes signed them. Later they went to Busch Stadium, where the big annual announcement of the Clemente Award would be delivered, along with Brock's first pitch. Brock's fellow Hall of Famer and Cardinals legend Red Schoendienst also was to throw out a first pitch.
"Since I was younger, I have always liked children," Vera Clemente said. "Then through my life after I married Roberto, I got involved much more. After Roberto died, I traveled always to different ceremonies, at schools, hospitals, baseball leagues -- any place that has his name around the world. I really enjoyed being available to the children."