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Roberto Clemente to be Honored in South Bronx with Chair, Sugar Cane Stalks

By Eddie Small | October 11, 2016 4:06pm
 Artist Melissa Calderón has developed a sculpture called
Artist Melissa Calderón has developed a sculpture called "Para Roberto" that will serve as the permanent artwork installation at Roberto Clemente Plaza.
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THE HUB — A 5-foot tall chair surrounded by 21 towering sugar cane stalks meant to honor famed ballplayer and humanitarian Roberto Clemente should arrive in the South Bronx by spring.

The sculpture, called "Para Roberto," was selected as the permanent art installation for Roberto Clemente Plaza with broad support from the public and the selection panel, according to Michael Brady, director of special projects at the economic development group SoBRO, which is helping spearhead the plaza's creation.

Artist Melissa Calderón came up with the winning idea and wrote on her website that it was inspired by what she thinks Clemente's life would be like if he were still alive today at age 82.

"I imagine him sitting on his most comfortable chair, on his porch in Puerto Rico, surrounded by loved ones," she wrote. "...I imagine Roberto sharing his history with his grandchildren, telling them about the island, growing up playing stickball with his friends from school and working in the sugar cane fields, wishing that he could be a baseball player when he grows up."

While Clemente was a Hall of Fame baseball player who won an MVP award and two World Series titles with the Pittsburgh Pirates,  he was just as renowned for his humanitarian accomplishments.

He was killed in a plane crash on his way to Nicaragua to help with earthquake relief, and Major League Baseball now gives out an award in his name to players who are exemplars of sportsmanship and community involvement.

"Para Roberto," which will also include a bronze plaque dedicated to Clemente, is meant to honor his charity work and ideally to inspire others to be more like him, Brady explained.

"The art is meant to be interactive," he said. "People are supposed to sit in the chair and hopefully ponder and assume some of the humanitarian traits that Roberto Clemente sought to extol in people during his life."

The sugar cane stalks surrounding the chair are also meant as a tribute to the Puerto Rican immigrant experience, Brady continued.

"So many first-generation Puerto Ricans, or even second-generation Puerto Ricans, have memories of their parents or grandparents working the sugar cane fields, and it’s a nod to that heritage," he said.

The entire sculpture will be cast in bronze to match the color of items like baseball bat grips and "spaldeen" balls.

The plaza will be located near the Hub at Third Avenue and 149th Street and should be completed by the end of the year, according to Brady. "Para Roberto" would then likely be installed in the spring.

"It’s going to be a very substantial project," he said, "and it's going to be backlit and really be a nice centerpiece to what will be a completed plaza."

Calderón wrote that Clemente's history was similar to the histories of many other Caribbean people, and she hopes that "Para Roberto" will serve as a fitting tribute to his entire life story.

"The work pays homage to Roberto's humble beginnings, outstanding athleticism, and humanitarian spirit," she wrote, "while giving the public a chance to sit and enjoy a moment of La Isla del Encanto."