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Clemente Jr. switches to aid tsunami victims

Pat Milton Associated Press

NEW YORK – The son of baseball great Roberto Clemente is sending money and 2 tons of supplies – originally destined for Nicaragua to honor his late father’s ill-fated humanitarian flight exactly 32 years ago – to tsunami victims.

“My father always said, ‘If you have an opportunity to make things better and you don’t, then you are wasting your time on Earth,’ ” Roberto Clemente Jr. said in a telephone interview Thursday with the Associated Press from Puerto Rico.

On Dec. 31, 1972, the Hall of Fame outfielder of the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1955-72 was killed when his plane crashed while carrying supplies from Puerto Rico to victims of earthquake-torn Nicaragua.

For the past several months, his son has been raising money and collecting clothing and medical supplies to reenact his father’s unfinished mission on this New Year’s Eve to bring closure to his life.

But inspired by his father’s humanitarian spirit, Clemente Jr. canceled that ceremonial flight and will divert the 2 tons of supplies and $18,000 earmarked for charities in Nicaragua to tsunami victims in south Asia.

“I decided to hold off on that flight to help the people who really desperately need it right now,” said Clemente Jr., 39, of New York and an ESPN commentator. “This is my upbringing and the legacy of my mother and my father to help others.”

Clemente Jr. was 7 when his father was killed. He said the death still haunts him because he had a premonition of his father’s crash and pleaded with him not to get on the plane.

“I carry the guilt to this day of not doing enough to stop him,” Clemente Jr. said. “He said, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll see you when I get back.’ “

Clemente’s cargo plane crashed off the coast of Puerto Rico shortly after takeoff, apparently because it was too heavy with supplies, his son said. His body was never recovered.

When Clemente Jr. turned 39 this year – his father was 38 when he died – he decided it was time to reenact his father’s “flight for humanity” to complete his mission.

He teamed with Project Club Clemente, a New York organization dedicated to the ballplayer’s humanitarian projects, and held a dinner dance and food drive to raise money for the flight.

While he was in Puerto Rico completing plans, the earthquake and tsunami hit in southern Asia and Africa – on the same date the earthquake rocked Nicaragua in 1972. He said he feels this is an omen.

Clemente Jr. said he is leading a campaign with the American Red Cross in Puerto Rico to help the victims of south Asia.

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