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Roberto Clemente Ballfield

Roberto Clemente Ballfield

This text is part of Parks’ Historical Signs Project and can be found posted within the park.

The Roberto Clemente Ballfield is named for one of this country’s greatest major league baseball players. Roberto Walker Clemente was born in Carolina, Puerto Rico on August 18, 1934. He played softball until he was seventeen, when he was recruited to play for the Santurce Cangregeros baseball team. In 1953 a scout signed him to the Brooklyn Dodgers’ International League farm team in Montreal. After just one season in the minor leagues, Clemente was selected as the Pittsburgh Pirates’ number one pick in the 1954 major league baseball draft.

From 1954 to 1972, Clemente played outfield for the Pittsburgh Pirates, amassed 3000 hits, and compiled a .317 lifetime batting average. His honors included eleven straight Gold Gloves, five National League batting championships, twelve All-Star selections, and the 1966 National League Most Valuable Player award. He led the Pirates to victory in the World Series in 1960 and 1971 and was chosen World Series Most Valuable Player in 1971. Clemente died in an airplane crash on December 31, 1972, New Year’s Eve, on a mission to bring food and medical supplies to earthquake-stricken Nicaragua. The following year, he became the first Hispanic player to be elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Roberto Clemente State Park in the Bronx is named in his memory.

The Roberto Clemente Ballfield is located west of the Clemente Plaza housing complex in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn. Originally chartered in 1660, this area was part of the colonial Dutch village of Boswijck (later Bushwick). In the early 19th century developer Richard Woodhull hired Jonathan Williams to survey a thirteen-acre parcel around N. 2nd Street and named the settlement in honor of the surveyor. Williamsburgh was incorporated as a village in 1827 and as a city in 1852. Three years later, it was consolidated into the city of Brooklyn and dropped its final "h."

Williamsburg’s 1.5-mile coastline along the East River attracted industrial development during the 19th and early 20th centuries. The site of the Roberto Clemente Ballfield, at the southeast corner of Division and Kent Avenues, was occupied by a cooperage in 1893 and by a chair factory in 1912. The departure of many manufacturing companies and the construction of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway dramatically changed the neighborhood after World War II. Under Urban Renewal, blocks of old factory and tenement buildings were demolished to make room for public housing.

The federally-funded Williamsburg Urban Renewal Area Program was inaugurated in 1968, in part to create new public open spaces for the community. In 1986 Parks acquired two parcels in the target area and developed plans for two different recreation facilities—one for active play and one for passive enjoyment. The first phase of the proposal, construction of the Roberto Clemente Ballfield, got underway in 1995 and was complete by 1998. The $2.6 million project funded by the Mayor began with demolishing buildings on the site, removing debris, installing clean landfill, and topographical grading. Subsequent improvements included a new baseball field, backstop, scoreboard, benches, bleachers, paving, curbs, security lighting, drinking fountains, drainage and water supply systems, sod, trees, fences, and gates. To the delight of Little Leaguers and the Williamsburg community, the new ballfield opened in 1998.

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