Reading Team to Retire Clemente’s ’21’ During MiLB Latino Heritage Nights

What: The Reading Fightin Phils minor league baseball team's retirement of Roberto Clemente's #21 highlights a season full of Latino-themed promotions across MiLB.
Why it matters: Teams are connecting with fans through these Heritage nights, encouraging local companies and businesses to partner with them to reach the Hispanic communities.

It's about a four-hour drive across most of the state of Pennsylvania from Pittsburgh, where Roberto Clemente roamed the Forbes Field, and, briefly, the Three Rivers Stadium, right field, to Reading, current home of the Phillies' AA affiliate, the Fightin Phils (@ReadingFightins). From 1955 through his untimely death on New Year's Eve, 1972, Clemente paved the way for future Latino players with a combination of skill between the lines and compassion and community-mindedness off it. Indeed, MLB's highest annual honor is the Roberto Clemente Award, presented to the player who "best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and the individual's contribution to his team," as voted on by baseball fans and members of the media.

While there have been pushes to have his classic #21 retired across the game, as Jackie Robinson's #42 was, Reading is getting a jump on it and doing so themselves. It's a bold step for the state's fifth-largest city, an area with a strong Hispanic population. Celebrating this community and the city's diversity, the team will host Latino Heritage Night on August 22 —its first home game after what would have been Clemente's 84th birthday on August 18— during which it will retire the number and play as "Los Peleadores de Reading." Fans will also receive a Clemente Los Peleadores bobblehead figure.

The Lake Elsinore (Calif.) Storm are designating a full weekend, June 1-3, as Hispanic Heritage Weekend, their Western Riverside County location ideal for an extended celebration.

The promotion is one of many Hispanic-themed events scheduled throughout the minor leagues this year. Across the country, 33 teams in 19 states are involved in "Copa de la Diversión,' a season-long event series specifically designed to embrace the culture and values that resonate most with participating teams' local U.S. Hispanic/Latino communities. Each team will host multiple events through the season, with each creating culturally-relevant on-field personas that honor the local U.S. Hispanic/Latino communities, to be announced next Tuesday, March 20.

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"Minor League Baseball is built on the fun, memory-making experiences created by our teams each and every day," said Kurt Hunzeker, Minor League Baseball's Vice President of Marketing Strategy and Research, in a statement last month. "When we introduced 'It's Fun to Be a Fan' and 'Es Divertido Ser Un Fan' last season, the overwhelmingly positive response led us to create this season-long event series, further showcasing our teams' commitment to their communities and MiLB's unique brand of fun."

Teams Tailoring Latino Heritage Events

Other teams are tailoring the events to their communities. The Lake Elsinore (Calif.) Storm (@Storm_Baseball), Class A affiliate of the San Diego Padres, are designating a full weekend, June 1-3, as Hispanic Heritage Weekend, their Western Riverside County location ideal for an extended celebration.

The Chattanooga Lookouts (@ChattLookouts), the Twins' AA Southern League team, will wear jerseys representing various flags on Hispanic Heritage Night on April 29, with proceeds from a post-game auction benefiting La Paz, a local Hispanic community organization.

The Great Lakes Loons (@greatlakesloons), the Dodgers' A affiliate in Midland, Mich., have a Latino Night scheduled on July 20, with a post-game salsa dance party.

In addition to forging goodwill, teams have been able to connect the heritage events with corporate partners. First Tennessee Bank, for example, is a presenting sponsor of the Lookouts' night. The Loons partnered with a local bar & grill for their post-game celebration.

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Jerry Milani @gbpackjerry

Jerry Milani is a freelance writer and public relations executive living in Bloomfield, N.J. He has worked in P.R. for more than 25 years in college and conference sports media relations, two agencies and for the International Fight League, a team-based mixed martial arts league, and now is the PR manager for Wizard World, which runs pop culture and celebrity conventions across North America. Milani is also the play-by-play announcer for Caldwell University football and basketball broadcasts. He is a proud graduate of Fordham University and when not attending a Yankees, Rams or Cougars game can be reached at Jerry (at) JerryMilani (dot) com.

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