Engine House 25, a retired fire station near downtown Pittsburgh, guards a collection of memorabilia, awards and photographs of one of the true heroes of the Steel City: baseball great Roberto Clemente.
Clemente was born in Puerto Rico during the depth of the Depression, working alongside his father in the sugarcane fields. It was his athletic talent that soon set him apart, and as a teenager baseball became his ticket out of the fields, and out of poverty.
Drafted by the Dodgers in 1954, he struggled in his early years—with a language barrier as well as his game—but he ultimately played 18 nearly unrivaled seasons of success as a Pirate, to this day revered by baseball fans and all who call Pittsburgh their home.
Those same baseball fans know the statistical legacy of Clemente: 1966 MVP, two World Series rings, four National League batting titles, eleven All-Star appearances, and twelve straight Gold Glove Awards. In 1973, he was posthumously enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame, the first Latin American and Caribbean player bestowed with the honor.
Clemente never really left his island home, continuing to coach and play winter ball in Puerto Rico during the off-season. Besides bringing his baseball talents back, his months away from the majors were spent dedicated to charitable work not only in Puerto Rico, but throughout the Caribbean and Latin America.
So it was in 1972 when tragedy struck. Clemente had organized an earthquake relief mission to Nicaragua, loading down a plane in San Juan with food and medical supplies. In order to help ensure its safe passage to the Managuans who needed it, he decided to accompany the cargo himself. The plane never made it, crashing just off shore. All on board were killed.
Photographs, awards, artifacts, documents, uniforms, collectibles and mementos from Clemente’s exemplary life and storied career are exhibited at the Clemente Museum in the old Engine Company (which, ironically, was decommissioned on the very same day of the fateful plane crash). Two of the museum’s prized possessions, ones that Clemente must have cherished himself, are the last jersey he ever wore and last bat he ever swung, both while playing for the San Juan Senadores.
Situated near the Allegheny River in the Lawrenceville section, Engine House 25 earns most of its keep as an event space, photographer’s studio, and wine bar. But it’s the museum honoring Roberto Clemente that earns the old brick building its soul.