Talkin’ 21 Podcast Celebrates Roberto Clemente’s legacy
Rasiel Guevara and Danny Torres celebrate Roberto Clemente's legacy with Talkin' 21 podcast.
By Alex Aguilera
The Great One Roberto Clemente transcended what a professional athlete can do beyond their athletic talent. The Puerto Rican icon was ahead of his time using his platform to address issues such as race or humanitarian aid.
Especially as a young Puerto Rican, I look up to Clemente as a model on how to be a good human being. Clemente will always be revered for the way he lived and the way he died on a relief mission when his cargo plane crashed on New Year’s Eve 1972 off the coast of San Juan.
Many players have honored his legacy with their charitable endeavors. There have also been numerous books about Clemente. Now a pair of New Yorkers – Mexican Rasiel Guevara and Puerto Rican Danny Torres – are celebrating Clemente’s life and legacy on their new podcast, Talkin’ 21.
In time I believe Clemente’s No. 21 will be retired throughout Major League Baseball. Seeing Puerto Rican players this season wear No. 21 in his honor shows that the movement is gaining more traction.
Many of the issues facing the United States now are the same Clemente addressed when he was an outspoken and proud player during his 18-year career. He was more than a 15-time All-Star, two-time World Series champion, four-time batting champion and member of the 3,000-hit club.
He spoke up at a time when Latino players were expected to be seen and not heard. He was definitely ahead of his time in regards to using his platform to address social issues. It was just in his nature to help those who were hurting and facing injustice the same way he did.
Clemente Embodied Selflessness
“Roberto Clemente is the complete embodiment of selflessness,” said Guevara, who produced the acclaimed documentary “In the Blood” on Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Fernando Tatis Jr. “Yes, many people know him as a remarkable baseball player, but he was so much more than that. He was having complex discussions about the intersectionality of race and culture.
“He pushed boundaries and refused to be put in a box. Above all else, he was a magnificent human being who deserves to be recognized. In short, he is a personal idol, and I’m proud to be doing my small part to keep his legacy alive.”
Our Esquina visited recently with Guevara, the Talkin’ 21 podcast creator and executive producer, and co-creator and host Torres for a brief Q&A.
Our Esquina: What does Roberto Clemente mean to you?
Danny Torres – Roberto means many things but going beyond his phenomenal playing ability, the countless awards and his tragic passing, what has stuck in mind from when I began my writing career in 2003 was how he interacted with people and, in his own words, stated, “I represent the poor people. I represent the common people in America.”
Rasiel Guevara – Roberto Clemente is the complete embodiment of selflessness. Yes, many people know him as a remarkable baseball player, but he was so much more than that. He was having complex discussions about the intersectionality of race and culture. He pushed boundaries and refused to be put in a box. Above all else, he was a magnificent human being who deserves to be recognized. In short, he is a personal idol, and I’m proud to be doing my small part to keep his legacy alive.
Guevara Executes Longtime Goal
OE: How did you decide to do this podcast?
Danny Torres – I received a message from Rasiel Guevara on how much he enjoyed my stories and wanted to gauge my interest to host a podcast. This wasn’t my idea whatsoever so this was a complete shock. Never crossed my mind. But, after a year, we spoke via Zoom and after a few meetings, Talkin’ 21 was born. I came up with the podcast name, and because I’m well aware of the importance of “branding” a product, I reached out to the best in the industry – Todd Radom. He’s a brilliant graphic designer for MLB. We’ve been friends for years, and I shared some ideas about what I would like to see in the logo.
Growing up in a Puerto Rican household, I take immense pride in my heritage, so the flag was an important symbol to incorporate with Roberto’s silhouette. Also, including the Pirates’ color scheme along with Roberto’s number I asked Todd to replace the number 1 with an image of a microphone. So far, we’ve received some excellent feedback.
Rasiel Guevara – The podcast has been marinating in my head for a long time. I wanted a repository of first-person stories of people who knew Roberto Clemente. I wanted an easily accessible archive for the current generation to easily dive into Roberto’s legacy. When I finally decided to pull the trigger, there was only one person I thought of doing it with. Danny is a great friend and a knowledgeable Clementista. He was the perfect partner.
OE: Why is this podcast so important?
Danny Torres- When Rasiel did his own research, he noticed there wasn’t a Roberto Clemente podcast. He literally must have envisioned what would happen next with the entire Pirates team wearing Clemente’s uniform number and players requesting his number as Major League Baseball celebrated Roberto Clemente Day on Sept. 9, 2020. The timing for a podcast was absolutely “the perfect storm.” And with that storm, the talk of retiring Clemente’s number is at the forefront once again.
Rasiel Guevara – Roberto’s legacy is safe among the people who grew up watching him play. People who knew of his generosity and kindness of spirit will never forget Roberto. However, I have two kids who are not familiar with Roberto Clemente. It is my job to teach them about him. This podcast is my way of introducing Roberto to a new generation of people who may not be familiar with him. If this podcast makes one person look up a highlight on YouTube or pick up a book about Roberto, I will consider it a success.
OE: What have you learned since starting to plan for this podcast?
Danny Torres – Honestly, I’m old school. I’m a high school teacher in the Bronx, a freelance sport journalist and I love to read. And now I’m hooked on podcasts. I’ll scroll on my phone looking for various topics (especially non-sports) I find engaging to listen to and “pods” are simply another way of telling a story. You’re able to listen and transform yourself into their conversation.
Rasiel Guevara – I knew Roberto was a perfectionist on the diamond. I knew Roberto loved fancy cars. I guess I never thought of him as a stylish dresser. I can’t gauge what ‘60s or ‘70s fashion was good. But every person that we have spoken to thus far has mentioned how stylish he was. They all mentioned that he was always in a suit. It just added another layer to the person I have been reading about since I was a child.
Retiring Clemente’s No. 21 Possible
OE: Do you think MLB will retire 21?
Danny Torres – On the retiring of Clemente’s number, I was in Pittsburgh in 2006 during the All-Star Game festivities collecting signatures, wearing a “Retire 21” T-shirt and then I switched hats and grabbed my media credentials. Prior to the game, I was on the field asking players about the retiring of Clemente’s number, and I still have those audios on microcassette tapes. My thoughts on the retirement of his number have evolved and I’m fully on board. But, a special thanks to Pirates’ manager Derek Shelton, who took the initiative to request permission from the (MLB) commissioner’s office for this year’s celebration and along with the Clemente family, it’s looking quite promising in the foreseeable future.
Rasiel Guevara – I do think Major League Baseball will retire Roberto’s number. His legacy is too great and his impact on multiple generations of Latino ballplayers is incalculable. It will be a great nod to all those peloteros to have one of their own treated as a pillar of the sport. He belongs next to Jackie Robinson. They deserve to stand shoulder to shoulder.
Clemente Remains in Rare Company
OE: Which player most embodies Roberto Clemente today and why?
Danny Torres – Honestly, and I’ve been covering MLB games for 17 years, interviewed countless players and I just don’t see a Latino or non-Latino ballplayer who really sticks out. Think for a moment what Clemente did during the season, off-season, sports clinics with children, hospital visits, interaction with the fans and finally boarding a plane on New Year’s Eve in 1972. There will ONLY be one “21.” Period.
OE: What do you think Roberto Clemente would think of what is going on in America today?
Danny Torres – Clemente was proud to be Black and Puerto Rican but also understood he was an American citizen. He served in the military too. His idol was Monte Irvin, a Black Negro League player who eventually would go on to play in the big leagues. His best friend in Pittsburgh was Phil Dorsey, a Black postal worker who was also in the Army Reserve.
Clemente idolized Martin Luther King Jr., who he actually met in Puerto Rico in the 1960s. Again, a Black minister and civil rights leader. Do you see the pattern? But, if I were to share some other names of those who were connected with Clemente, many were non-Latinos because he didn’t see color until he arrived in the USA. But, Clemente, on numerous occasions, spoke out on the injustices he witnessed firsthand. And today (he) would have marched hand-in-hand with every race, denomination, creed and color. Because as I shared what Clemente said often, “I represent the poor people. I represent the common people in America.”
Rasiel Guevara – There is no doubt in my mind that Roberto would have been at the forefront of the conversation surrounding racism and police brutality in this country. He was always a loud voice in the face of injustice. He would, like many of us, be disappointed the country has gotten as fractured as it is. But, I also know he would be part of the healing.
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