Filmmaker's Clemente movie a testament to grace, power
If Roberto Clemente were playing baseball today, he would be pleased roaming right field of PNC Park, filmmaker Richard Rossi insists.
“He used to say it is most important to spend the greatest amount of time doing things you love,” Rossi says. “He would talk about people in mills spending money on tickets for games, and how impressed he was at that. It was before free agency, but I don't think it would have mattered.”
West View native Rossi is an unabashed Clemente fan who will be here Aug. 17 and 18 for the premiere of “Baseball's Last Hero: 21 Clemente Stories” at the Strand Theater in Zelienople, Butler County.
The screenings originally were called the “Western Pennsylvania premiere,” but the current Los Angeles resident says he saw the need for changes when he saw the film on July 29 at its Hollywood presentation. He says he noticed at least six elements he wanted to cut. When he is done, it will be about 90 minutes long.
“So, this will be the real thing,” he says of the film premiering at the Strand.
Ron Carter, owner of the century-old theater he has renovated into a versatile entertainment spot, is thrilled the revisions took place. “We have done any number of shows here, but this is our very first film premiere,” he says.
Carter says his liaison with Rossi came about “totally by accident,” as Rossi searched for a place in or near Pittsburgh to bring the Clemente film. Rossi found out about the Strand, emailed Carter, and that led to a talk that put the shows together.
“It took ... well ... a day,” Carter says.
Like Rossi, Carter believes Clemente would not be the pampered, spoiled, Alex Rodriguez-type athlete of the modern era. Rather, he thinks Clemente would be sounding a “call to action” to fellow players, challenging them to meet team and athletic goals.
The “21 Clemente Stories” are told using the 21 letters in Roberto Walker Clemente. The first “R” stands for Rookie and the last “E” for earthquake, referring to the Nicaraguan quake the led to Clemente's death on an aid mission in 1972.
The “L” in Clemente's name stands for “loyalty,” Rossi says, talking about Clemente's love of being a Pirate.
Rossi says it is a Puerto Rican tradition to use the number of letters in a name as the digits taken for athletics.
The film, he says, is done with a blend of news and game footage along with scripted and acted scenes featuring Jamie Nieton, a two-time Olympic high jumper, as Clemente. Some of the sections are done with one type of action or another while others are stylistic blends, he says.
Rossi says he has been working on the writing of the film for about five years, but his stories go back much farther. When he was growing up in West View, he wrote about Clemente for so many assignments at St. Athanasius elementary school, one of the nuns there finally chastised him for it.
Rossi, 50, says he became a fan of Clemente simply by watching the beauty, grace and power of his play at Forbes Field and Three Rivers Stadium. He talks with great fondness of sitting in the general-admission seats in right field at Forbes, right above the Great One.
He gets a little wistful when he talks about Clemente getting his 3,000 hits his last regular-season at bat in the 1972 season — and doffing his cap as he stood at second base. There is a bitter irony the 3,000th hit would come at the end of his last season.
“He used to say, ‘Only God can tell you how much time you will have around here,' ” he says.
Bob Karlovits is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at email@example.com or 412-320-7852.