An Afro-Latino man with a baseball bat in his hand standing in front of a Puerto Rican flag
Photo Illustration by Matt Herring; Courtesy of The Clemente Museum (Roberto Clemente); iStockPhoto/Getty Images (All Other Images)

El Magnífico

How a teen from Puerto Rico changed baseball—and America—forever 

By Mary Kate Frank

Learning Objective: Students will read a biographical story about baseball great and Latino activist Roberto Clemente. They will look for similarities and differences between Clemente’s story and that of a boy who connects with his Native American culture through lacrosse.

Lexile: 600L-700L, 700L-800L
Guided Reading Level: S
DRA Level: 40
Other Key Skills: vocabulary, text features, text evidence, how individuals develop, inference, text structure, key ideas and details, explanatory writing
Topics: Civil Rights,

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UP CLOSE: Compare and Contrast

As you read about two athletes, look for what is important to each one, beyond his sport.

El Magnífico

How a teen from Puerto Rico changed baseball—and America—forever 

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It was the final game of the 1971 World Series, the biggest baseball championship in the United States. The score was 0-0 as the announcer boomed, “Number 21 . . . Roberto Clemente!”

Clemente, the right fielder for the Pittsburgh Pirates, stepped up to the plate. His team was expected to lose to the Baltimore Orioles. But Clemente had promised his teammates they would win.

He had beaten tough odds before. Clemente was a Black Latino baseball player from Puerto Rico, an island that’s part of the U.S. He faced discrimination throughout his career. His incredible talent was often overlooked. But Clemente was always proud of who he was and where he came from. Now he wanted to show the world that he was one of the best players.

Clemente raised his wooden bat over his shoulder and waited. The crowd held its breath. Then the pitcher wound up, and the ball whizzed through the air.

It was the final game of the 1971 World Series. That’s the biggest baseball championship in the United States. The score was 0-0. The announcer boomed, “Number 21 . . . Roberto Clemente!”

Clemente stepped up to the plate. His team, the Pittsburgh Pirates, was expected to lose to the Baltimore Orioles. But Clemente had promised his teammates they would win.

He had beaten tough odds before. Clemente was a Black Latino baseball player from Puerto Rico. He faced discrimination throughout his career. His great talent was often overlooked. But Clemente was always proud of who he was and where he came from. Now he wanted to show the world that he was one of the best players.

Clemente raised his wooden bat over his shoulder and waited. The crowd held its breath. Then the pitcher wound up, and the ball whizzed through the air.

Baseball Fever

Clemente was born in a small town in Puerto Rico in 1934. As a kid, he loved playing baseball more than anything else. Each day after school—and sometimes all day on weekends—Clemente played with his friends and siblings. They didn’t have much money. So they carved bats from branches. They sewed gloves from coffee sacks. They made baseballs from old socks and string.

Clemente watched a lot of baseball too. His father would give him 25 cents for a ticket and bus fare to see his favorite team, the San Juan Senadores. Clemente dreamed of playing baseball professionally.

It wasn’t long before that dream came true. By the time he was in high school, Clemente could play better than many adult players. In 1952, when he was just 18, he joined a professional team in Puerto Rico.

Soon after that, the biggest baseball league in the U.S.—Major League Baseball—came calling.

Clemente was born in 1934 in a small town in Puerto Rico. That’s an island that’s part of the U.S. As a kid, he loved playing baseball. Each day after school, Clemente played with his friends and brothers and sisters. They didn’t have much money. So they carved bats from branches. They made baseballs from old socks and string.

Clemente watched a lot of baseball too. His father would give him 25 cents for a ticket and bus fare to go see his favorite team play. Clemente dreamed of playing professional baseball.

It wasn’t long before that dream came true. By high school, Clemente could play better than many adult players. In 1952, when he was just 18, he joined a professional team in Puerto Rico.

Soon after that, the biggest baseball league in the U.S.—Major League Baseball—wanted to hire him.

Jim McMahon/Mapman®

Far From Home

In 1955, Clemente joined the Pittsburgh Pirates. This was a big accomplishment. But Clemente’s career was taking off at a troubling time in U.S. history.

Racist laws and customs in the South—where the Pirates trained—kept Black people and White people separate. That meant Black players couldn’t stay at the same hotels or eat at the same restaurants as their White teammates.

Clemente had never experienced segregation before. He was shocked to learn that Black players had to wait on the team bus while White players ate at restaurants. After Clemente spoke up, the Pirates provided a car so Black players could drive to places that would serve them.

As one of the only Latino players on the Pirates, Clemente felt like even more of an outsider. His first language was Spanish. When he spoke English, sports reporters made fun of his accent. They pronounced his name wrong. Or they called him “Bob” or “Bobby,” which Clemente found insulting.

Baseball became his only joy. Clemente made impossible catches and lightning-fast throws. In 1960, he helped the Pirates win the World Series for the first time in more than 30 years. As he left the stadium, someone yelled, “There’s Clemente!” Cheering fans surrounded him.

Clemente had won over the people of Pittsburgh.

In 1955, Clemente joined the Pittsburgh Pirates as a right fielder. This was a big achievement. Clemente’s career was taking off. But it was a troubling time in U.S. history.

Racist laws and ways in the South—where the Pirates trained—kept Black people and White people separate. This was called segregation. That meant Black players couldn’t stay at the same hotels as their White teammates. They couldn’t eat at the same restaurants.

Clemente had never experienced segregation before. He was shocked to learn that Black players had to wait on the team bus while White players ate at restaurants. Clemente spoke up. Then the Pirates provided a car so Black players could drive to places that would serve them.

As one of the only Latino players on the Pirates, Clemente felt like an outsider. His first language was Spanish. When he spoke English, sports reporters made fun of his accent. They pronounced his name wrong. Or they called him “Bob” or “Bobby.” Clemente found this insulting.

Baseball became his only joy. Clemente made impossible catches and lightning-fast throws. In 1960, he helped the Pirates win the World Series. As he left the stadium, someone yelled, “There’s Clemente!” Cheering fans surrounded him.

Clemente had won over the people of Pittsburgh.

Something to Prove

There was one group Clemente still couldn’t win over, though: sports reporters. After the World Series, they voted for a Most Valuable Player award. Clemente hoped to win. Instead, the reporters ranked him eighth. Clemente was deeply hurt. He felt the reporters had not voted for him because he was Black and his English wasn’t perfect.

Clemente channeled his anger into his work. Over the next several years, his skills got even better. He began winning awards. During interviews, he continued to speak out against racism.

In 1971, Clemente led the Pirates back to the World Series. In the final game, with the score tied 0-0, Clemente stood at the plate as the ball flew toward him.

Crack! Clemente sent the ball soaring across the field. The crowd erupted in cheers as the announcer cried, “A Clemente home run!”

The home run rallied the team. The Pirates beat the Orioles 2-1, winning the World Series.

Right after the game, Clemente was named Most Valuable Player. TV reporters interviewed him in the locker room. Clemente took the chance to address the world in Spanish. He said it was “el día mas grande de mi vida”—“the greatest day of my life.”

It was the first time anyone had spoken Spanish during a Major League Baseball game on live television. And it touched Spanish speakers around the world.

There was one group Clemente still couldn’t win over, though: sports reporters. After the World Series, they voted for a Most Valuable Player award. Clemente hoped to win. Instead, the reporters ranked him eighth. Clemente was deeply hurt. He felt the reporters had not voted for him because he was Black and his English wasn’t perfect.

Clemente channeled his anger into his work. His skills got even better. He began winning awards. During interviews, he continued to speak out against racism.

In 1971, Clemente led the Pirates back to the World Series. In the final game, the score was tied 0-0. Clemente stood at the plate as the ball flew toward him.

Crack! Clemente sent the ball soaring across the field. The crowd cheered wildly as the announcer cried, “A Clemente home run!”

The home run rallied the team. The Pirates beat the Orioles 2-1. They won the World Series!

Right after the game, Clemente was named Most Valuable Player. TV reporters interviewed him in the locker room. Clemente spoke to the world in Spanish. He said it was “el día mas grande de mi vida”—“the greatest day of my life.”

It was the first time anyone had spoken Spanish during a Major League Baseball game on live television. And it touched Spanish speakers around the world.

Helping Others

Soon, Clemente began to imagine life after baseball. He wanted to help others. Already, he gave free baseball lessons to kids in Puerto Rico. He donated money to feed hungry people.

“Any time you have an opportunity to make a difference in this world and you don’t, then you are wasting your time on this Earth,” Clemente once said.

In December 1972, a massive earthquake hit Nicaragua, a country in Central America. Thousands died. Many more were left homeless. Clemente sprang into action.

He boarded a flight to deliver food and medicine. But right after takeoff, an engine failed. The plane plunged into the Atlantic Ocean. No one survived the crash.

At just 38 years old, Clemente was gone.

Soon, Clemente began to think about life after baseball. He wanted to help others. Already, he gave free baseball lessons to kids in Puerto Rico. He donated money to feed hungry people.

“Any time you have an opportunity to make a difference in this world and you don’t, then you are wasting your time on this Earth,” Clemente once said.

In December 1972, a massive earthquake hit a country in Central America called Nicaragua. Thousands died. Many more were left homeless. Clemente sprang into action.

He boarded a flight to deliver food and medicine. But right after takeoff, an engine failed. The plane dived into the Atlantic Ocean. No one survived the crash.

At just 38 years old, Clemente was gone.

The Story of 21

People mourned Clemente as a hero, both on and off the field. Less than three months after his death, he became the first Latino player elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Hundreds of schools, hospitals, and parks were named for Clemente. Each year, Major League Baseball hands out the Roberto Clemente Award. It celebrates players who give back to their communities. There’s even a Roberto Clemente Day every September.

On that day in 2020, Puerto Rican baseball players wore Clemente’s number, 21, to honor him. “He represented all of us,” said Francisco Lindor of the New York Mets. “And now it’s our turn to represent him.”

People mourned Clemente. He was a hero, both on and off the field. Less than three months after his death, he became the first Latino player elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Hundreds of schools, hospitals, and parks were named for Clemente. There’s even a Roberto Clemente Day every September. On that day in 2020, Puerto Rican baseball players wore Clemente’s number, 21, to honor him. “He represented all of us,” said Francisco Lindor of the New York Mets. “And now it’s our turn to represent him.”

More Than a Sport 

Wesay Metoxen celebrates the deep history of lacrosse

Courtesy of family

Wesay Metoxen

Lawisana^wase (Wesay) Metoxen has been playing lacrosse since he was a little kid. But for the 10-year-old, lacrosse is more than a sport. It’s a sacred tradition.

Wesay is a citizen of the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin. His ancestors belonged to a group of Native American nations called the Haudenosaunee (hoh-dee-noh-SHOW-nee). They’ve been playing lacrosse for about 1,000 years. Early games could last for days and involve hundreds of players. But lacrosse wasn’t just a sport. The Haudenosaunee played—and still play—to make communities stronger. Games are often part of ceremonies.

In the U.S., 770,000 kids of all backgrounds play the sport, which is based on the early games the Haudenosaunee played. But many don’t know the game’s Native roots. Here, Wesay talks about his passion for lacrosse and the connections it has to his culture.

Wesay Metoxen, 10, has been playing lacrosse since he was a little kid. But lacrosse is more than a sport to him. It’s a sacred tradition.

Wesay is a member of the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin. His ancestors belonged to a group of Native American nations that’s been playing lacrosse for about 1,000 years. Early games could last for days. They could include hundreds of players. But lacrosse wasn’t just a sport. These nations played—and still play—to make communities stronger. Games are often part of ceremonies.

In the U.S., 770,000 kids of all backgrounds play the sport. It’s based on the early games that Native Americans played. But many don’t know the game’s Native roots. Here, Wesay talks about his love for lacrosse and the connections it has to his culture.

Courtesy of family

Lacrosse is a fast-paced sport in which players use sticks with nets on the ends to throw a ball into the other team’s goal.

When did you start playing lacrosse?

I’ve always been around the game. Growing up, I watched my older brother, Lohatiyo, play lacrosse. He taught me how to shoot, catch, and throw—all the fundamentals of lacrosse. I’ve played and loved the game since I can remember.


How did you learn about the history of the sport?

Lacrosse comes from our tribe’s creation story, which is the story our tribe tells to explain how the world came to be. So I heard a lot about lacrosse at tribal school. Oneidas sometimes gather to play lacrosse traditionally, like our ancestors played it. We call it the “medicine game” because we play to heal and bring our community together.

When did you start playing lacrosse?

I’ve always been around the game. Growing up, I watched my older brother, Lohatiyo, play lacrosse. He taught me how to shoot, catch, and throw—all the fundamentals of lacrosse. I’ve played and loved the game since I can remember.


How did you learn about the history of the sport?

Lacrosse comes from our tribe’s creation story, which is the story our tribe tells to explain how the world came to be. So I heard a lot about lacrosse at tribal school. Oneidas sometimes gather to play lacrosse traditionally, like our ancestors played it. We call it the “medicine game” because we play to heal and bring our community together.

National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution (Lacrosse Stick). Photo by NMAI Photo Services (Lacrosse Ball)

Traditional lacrosse equipment includes handmade sticks with nets and balls made of wood or deerskin and fur.

Have you ever played lacrosse traditionally? What is it like?

Yes! I’ve played it for ceremonies. When I first played, I felt scared because you can get hurt. There’s no padding, and the ball is made of wood instead of rubber or plastic. Also, at the beginning of the game, we do a loud yell together called a war whoop. It’s energizing to play—and I think it’s more fun than new lacrosse!


What do you want people to know about lacrosse?

I want people to know that Native Americans invented lacrosse and that we are still alive and playing today.


What’s your advice to kids who want to start playing lacrosse?

It’s hard when you start, but keep playing and don’t give up! Keep practicing and you will get better.

Have you ever played lacrosse traditionally? What is it like?

Yes! I’ve played it for ceremonies. When I first played, I felt scared because you can get hurt. There’s no padding, and the ball is made of wood instead of rubber or plastic. Also, at the beginning of the game, we do a loud yell together called a war whoop. It’s energizing to play—and I think it’s more fun than new lacrosse!


What do you want people to know about lacrosse?

I want people to know that Native Americans invented lacrosse and that we are still alive and playing today.


What’s your advice to kids who want to start playing lacrosse?

It’s hard when you start, but keep playing and don’t give up! Keep practicing and you will get better.

What's the Connection?

How did Roberto Clemente use his sport to speak out about issues that were important to him? How does Wesay Metoxen’s sport help him connect with what’s important to him? Answer in a well-organized essay or record an explanation on video.

What's the Connection?

How did Roberto Clemente use his sport to speak out about issues that were important to him? How does Wesay Metoxen’s sport help him connect with what’s important to him? Answer in a well-organized essay or record an explanation on video.

This article was originally published in the December 2021/January 2022 issue.

This article was originally published in the December 2021/January 2022 issue.

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Step-by-Step Lesson Plan

Table of Contents

1. Preparing to Read

2. Reading and Discussing

SEL Focus, Close Reading, Critical Thinking

3. Skill Building and Writing

4. Digital Spotlight

5. Differentiate and Customize

Striving Readers, Advanced Readers, Multilingual Learners

6. Can’t-Miss Teaching Extras

1. Preparing to Read

Engage Students, Watch a Video, Introduce Vocabulary

  • Have students look at the opening image for the first article, on page 15. Ask whether anyone is familiar with the man pictured, Roberto Clemente. If so, invite students to share what they know. Help students pronounce the headline, El Magnífico [el mahg-NEE-fee-koh], and draw their attention to the caption. Point out the flag behind Clemente and ask where it’s from. (Puerto Rico) 
  • Then ask students to turn to page 19. Ask: What sport is this article about? (lacrosse) What do you think this article might have in common with the first article?

  • Show the video “Beyond the Story: Roberto Clemente” to introduce students to this baseball hero and humanitarian before reading.

  • Distribute or digitally assign the Vocabulary Skill Builder to preview challenging words. Highlighted words: Latino, discrimination, channeled, rallied, donated, represented, sacred, ancestors, ceremonies

  • Invite a student to read aloud the Up Close box on page 15 for the class.

2. Reading and Discussing

  • Have students prepare for discussion by reading the articles independently or in small groups. They can read the on-level or lower-Lexile version, or listen to the Author Read-Aloud of either level.
  • Discuss the close-reading and critical-thinking questions together as a class. Discuss the SEL Focus either before or after the critical-thinking questions.

SEL Focus

Identifying Personal, Cultural, and Linguistic Assets

Talk with students about how both Clemente and Wesay are proud of the land and the people they come from. Being Puerto Rican for Clemente and being Oneida for Wesay are important parts of who they are. Clemente also wanted people to respect his language. Discuss: How does your background make you proud of who you are? What traditions do you follow or languages do you speak that you would like others to know about and respect? Encourage students to share their thoughts with the class.

Close-Reading Questions

"El Magnífico"

  • The third paragraph of the article says Roberto Clemente “had beaten tough odds.” What does this phrase mean? What evidence does the author include to show that it’s true? (text evidence) To beat tough odds means to succeed even when success is unlikely. The author shows that Clemente “had beaten tough odds” by pointing out that he faced discrimination as a Black Latino player throughout his career. Yet he rose to play in the World Series. Also, he remained “proud of who he was and where he came from” despite how he was treated.

  • Reread the section “Far From Home.” How did Clemente stand up for himself and other Black players? What does this tell you about him? (how individuals develop) Clemente spoke up about the injustice Black players faced. For example, Black players had to sit in the team bus while White players ate in a restaurant. As a result of Clemente’s speaking out, Black players were provided a car to drive to restaurants that would serve them in the segregated South. This shows that Clemente had the self-respect to not accept unfair treatment and the courage to speak out about it.
  • Why do you think Clemente found it insulting to be called “Bob” or “Bobby”? Why is it important to try to say people’s names correctly? (inference) He found it insulting because sports reporters changed his Spanish name to make it sound more “American.” It showed they didn’t respect his Puerto Rican roots. It’s important to try to say people’s names correctly because this shows you care about who they are.

  • How does the section “Something to Prove” connect with the beginning of the story? (text structure) The first section opens during the 1971 World Series and ends as “the ball whizzed through the air.” The section “Something to Prove” picks up at the same moment and moves forward, revealing that Clemente hit a home run, leading his team to win the World Series. 

  • In the section “Helping Others,” read Clemente’s quote: “Any time you have an opportunity to make a difference in this world and you don’t, then you are wasting your time on this Earth.” How did Clemente show that he lived by what he said? (text evidence) Clemente did many things to help other people. He gave free baseball lessons to children in Puerto Rico, and he donated money for people who didn’t have food. He was trying to deliver food and medicine to people devastated by an earthquake in Nicaragua when he died in a plane crash. 

  • Read the sidebar “Remembering Roberto.” What do you learn from it that is not in the article? (text features) The sidebar says that Clemente answered his fan mail regularly and signed many autographs, showing he cared about his fans. It also shows the statue outside the Pirates’ stadium today.