The Roberto Clemente Men’s Hispanic Softball League is back!

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(l-r) Jo, Dee, Beja, Koko, Aub. The ladies are hoping for the return of the women’s version of the Roberto Clemente League. 5/7/16

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One of the favorite cards in my collection, his final season, # 50 Topps, 1973

The Roberto Clemente Men’s Hispanic Softball League is all about history. In my short visit to last Saturday’s pre-season tournament, I heard just a few stories for several future articles rich in Rochester sports and social history. The RCMSL is about generations passing on the love of softball.

Originally named for the Puerto Rican star Tony Alomar Sr. who played for the Red Wings and made his home in Rochester, the league began in the 1960s. During that time the local Hispanic population was rapidly growing, and the Tony Alomar Sr. League was the first organized league for Hispanic players.

After Roberto Clemente tragically died in a 1972 plane crash aiding Nicaraguan earthquake victims, the League was renamed in his honor. Clemente’s widow once visited Rochester, attending a Roberto Clemente League softball game.

Games were first played in Brown Square Park, but as the league grew in popularity, games have been played throughout the city. To include more participants, a “minority rule” was instituted requiring teams to have at least 5 non-Hispanics on their roster. Juan Padillo would found the Roberto Clemente Baseball League for Children. In 1995, Eugenio Cotto jr. founded the Rochester Hispanic Baseball League.

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(l-r) Justino Rivera, David Kramer, Fred Martinez, Ray Padillo [Photo: Jose Cruz] 5/7/16

Over the years, many a great ballplayer has passed though. The Culvers have been mainstays for decades; Chuckie’s son Cito was drafted in the first round by the New York Yankees. Like Tony Alomar Sr., the RCMSL’s Girón later played for the Red Wings. Fred Martinez, cousin of Hall of Famer Roberto Alomar who is Tony Alomar Sr.’s grandson, currently plays in the league. A standout pitcher at Franklin HS, before hurting his arm, Fred was a top baseball prospect. Fortunately, he’s now healed and preparing for a tryout with the Washington Nationals. The RCMSL may yet have its first alum in the major leagues.

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Noe Gonzalez pitching to Dan Cardella as Jo, Dee, Beja, Koko, Aub watch.

But just two years ago, the League was on hard times, down to only 4 teams.

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As I am also an umpire, I always watch the men in red. Umpire Jose Cruz in good position for the call. 5/7/16

That’s when Justino Rivera and others stepped up to the plate. As Justino told me, the condition of the league was a dishonor and embarrassment to the memory of the life of Roberto Clemente.

Tired of the badmouthing of the historic league, the other franchise owners impeached the former president. And since then, the league has made a significant turnaround.  The RCMSL is back.

Justino has made the turnaround possible through tireless efforts:

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Umpire Henderson Humphries manning the plate.

Along with old fashioned word of mouth, we constantly promote and advertise in the local community, social media, etc. The league is formed around the generations: players from the past to present and future players. Getting out to see these guys play the game they love inspires the younger generation — who will soon follow in their footsteps.

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Good game, Red (Henderson Humphries)

Justino was quick to tell me another of his motivations for saving the league. In the last several years, he has been helping two cancer fighters battle their deadly disease, and hopes to use the softball league as a platform to spread cancer education. Already league members have donated funds, and Justino works with health professionals from Action for a Better Community to educate his organization, their families and fans for better living.

To get involved with the League in any capacity or to inquire about donating to the cancer fund, contact Justino at 585-615-4643 or through Facebook @ Tino Rivera-Albuzi via email tygahwooo@gmail.com  The League runs from this upcoming Sunday and every Sunday through late August. And in two Sundays there will be a live percussion performance at the Edgerton Park games.

SEE ALSO

250 years of calling you out

Pick up softball games still exist

Iconic America at the Brighton Little League Parade