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What do Vimael Machin and Roberto Clemente have in common? More than you might think.

Not only were both born and raised in Puerto Rico and made it to the big leagues, but they were both rule five draftees and went through the same experience of coming to a different country, learning English and making a name for the Latin countries, especially Puerto Rico.

This story has been updated with quotes and post-game material from the A’s clubhouse at the Oakland Coliseum.

Machin started at third base Wednesday for the A’s in their 3-2 win as they honored Roberto Clemente Day. He did so with No. 21 on his back in honor of his hometown hero.

Machin spoke about what it means to take the field wearing the No. 21:

“It means everything because he was just a legend back in Puerto Rico and for me, not all of us has the opportunity to wear a big league uniform and especially today on a special day for our Roberto Clemente, wearing No. 21 is an honor and I am just so honored to be doing that tonight. He was just a role model for a lot of people back home in Puerto Rico, not only as a player but as a person off the field. Just helping others, it is something that not everybody has the opportunity to do what he did and I am going to wear it with a lot of pride and I am just honored to be doing that today.”

Machin was the only Oakland player to rep Clemente and he was the first player to reach first base safely after he walked in the second inning. He walked again in the seventh inning. Martin Maldonado wore No. 21 for Houston but didn’t get on base in the 3-2 Oakland win.

Machin went to baseball school, the Puerto Rican Baseball Academy, where he first learned about Clemente and the history of Puerto Rican players. It wasn’t what Clemente did on the field that makes Machin proud, it is the extent of giving back to others not only in Puerto Rico but other Latin American countries as well.

Machin explained that you don’t see that often, and it was huge for him and the people of Puerto Rico.

Another thing both Puerto Rican natives shared was the struggle to learn English, and Machin respects the journey Clemente went through:

“The way he [Clemente] played, he didn’t know English at first and he learned it just like me. For us Latin players it is hard to fly to a different country not knowing anything and for him to do what he did, learning English, helping others, even though English wasn’t his first language, that’s the same situation for me. Spanish was the first language for me and to look at him, the way he played baseball, the way he helped others that is huge for me and something that I will be honored just to represent him today just because of all of that.”

Baseball Twitter has been very vocal on Wednesday on the 19th annual celebration of Roberto Clemente. It has been a conversation among fans and players to retire the No. 21 forever, just like they did for No. 42 in honor of Jackie Robinson, who broke the black barrier in baseball. Clemente did the same for Latino players when he was inducted into the Hall of Fame, but has not earned the same respect.

Machin explained he has never wanted to wear the No. 21 and wouldn’t, out of respect. He agreed to wear it on the day the celebrate the Puerto Rican legend, but as a number to wear throughout his career, he said it would never pick that number out of respect.

Ramon Laureano and Jesús Luzardo are also Latino players who started on Roberto Clemente Day but did not wear the No. 21. Luzardo honored Clemente on the mound by wearing shoes with a photo of Clemente in his legendary Pirates uniform when he started on Wednesday.

Every Pittsburgh Pirates player wore the No. 21 on Wednesday.


Simone McCarthy

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