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Pirates' Tabata yearns to honor Clemente

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Thursday, Aug. 18, 2011

If only for one game, Jose Tabata would like to play right field at PNC Park wearing No. 21 on the back of his Pirates jersey.

"That's my dream," Tabata said Wednesday.

No Pirates player has worn 21 since Hall of Fame right fielder Roberto Clemente. The team retired the number at the start of the 1973 season, four months after Clemente was killed in a plane crash while attempting to deliver supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua.

As Tabata begins the process of becoming at least a part-time right fielder — playing in front of the 21-foot-high Clemente Wall at PNC Park — he wants to honor the man who was his childhood idol.

"My wish is to one day ask (the Clemente) family if I can wear that number for at least one day," Tabata said through interpreter Luis Silverio. "I am so proud to play the same position as my hero."

Tabata was born in Venezuela 15 years after Clemente's death. Like thousands of other Latin American children before and since, Tabata grew up eagerly listening to stories about Clemente.

"My father told me about Clemente when I was 7 years old," Tabata said. "I heard about the type of person he was on and off the field, the way he played the game, the way he respected the game, and how he died trying to help others. That's what made him my hero."

Clemente remains among the most revered players in Pittsburgh sports history. Tabata said his hope to wear No. 21 is not intended as a slight at Clemente's legacy.

"There is only one Roberto. I realize that," Tabata said. "He's my inspiration to keep working hard. At the end of my career, my numbers won't be the same as Clemente's, but at least I was able to do something for the Pittsburgh Pirates."

Tabata made his first major league start in right field Wednesday. He has played 158 games in left field and 15 in center in his career.

"I want to play (in right)," Tabata said. "It's where the team wants me to play, and I will honor that."

Tabata figures to get a lot more time in right, especially when Alex Presley comes off the disabled list.

"Presley is better suited to the gap (in left-center)," manager Clint Hurdle said. "Jose still has the range to go get the ball (in left), but his throwing arm is strong enough for right field."

Hurdle also is impressed that Tabata wants to patrol right field because of Clemente.

"It's very refreshing to see a kid like Jose, who's tied to it — the heritage, the history, the position, all of it," Hurdle said. "It's old school. He wants to play in front of the Clemente Wall."

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