Roberto Clemente had an industrious 17-year Major League Baseball career with the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Hall of Fame outfielder was a two-time World Series champion, 15-time All-Star, 12-time Gold Glove winner and a four-time National League batting champion.
His accomplishments in the 1950s and 60s paved the way for a vast influx of other Latin American ballplayers to make their mark on the national pastime in the United State.
More than 40 years later, Gregory Polanco is just one of thousands of players feeling Clemente's effects.
Even more fitting that he's off to a hot start with Clemente's Pirates.
Polanco, the 22-year old rookie in right field made his major league debut with Pittsburgh on June 10 at PNC Park against the Chicago Cubs. He went 1 for 5 in his much-anticipated beginning and has been hot ever since.
Polanco is riding a seven-game hitting streak becoming the first Pirates rookie to total that many hits in a row since Clemente himself.
He was on a tear in his four-year minor league career, but success in the majors was never guaranteed. Especially with the immense pressure placed upon him by fans and media alike, Polanco had a lot to live up to in a short amount of time.
"I reminded him to respect everything and fear nothing, and hold on to the one word that is very descriptive of Gregory when he plays -- play," said Pirates manager Clint Hurdle in an article by the official team website. "You've done the work. You've put in your time, your preparation, your focus -- now play ball."
Prior to his major league call up, Polanco hit .347 in 62 games at Triple-A Indianapolis. He added seven home runs with 17 doubles, five triples and 15 stolen bases.
Currently, through seven games, Polanco has 13 hits in 35 at-bats with only five strikeouts. He hit his first home run — a two-run shot — on June 13 in Miami. The blast came in the 10th inning to secure a win over the Marlins.
That was part of a five-hit night. Since then, he's had a pair of multi-hit games.
"Gregory can do it all out there," said the reigning Most Valuable Player, Andrew McCutchen, the Pirates center fielder. "He can hit for power, hit for average. He can bunt if he needs to lay a bunt down. He has a tremendous arm in the outfield. He can cover a lot of ground. He can get down the line. He's a great listener. He's eager to learn, he plays the game the right way and he does what he's told. You can't ask for anything more than that."
McCutchen is on a tear of his own, riding a 12-game hitting streak. His batting average has improved to .324 and he's hitting .450 in his last ten games.
In Pittsburgh's left field, Starling Marte is seeing a resurgence on a hefty hit streak of his own. Marte has an eight-game hitting streak going with six multi-hit games over that span. He had four hits in the 8-6 win over the Marlins on June 13 — the same game Polanco broke out for five hits.
Marte and Polanco have more in common than playing on the same team, in arguably the most talented outfield in the National League. They also hail from the same town — Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.
As they've led the Pirates to a 34-36 record in the NL Central Division, they also are successful byproducts of the Clemente-era.
It's safe to say "The Great One" as he is still known in Pittsburgh, is looking down with great pleasure.
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