Feb. 14–A new, bigger mural honoring baseball icon Roberto Clemente will rise again over Azalea Park’sLittle League after someone rolled black paint over one honoring the Puerto Rican humanitarian at a local ball field.
That’s what supporters, a league official, and fans from as far away as Kentucky vowed after news of the mural’s destruction spread beyond this working-class Hispanic community.
“We’re going to get our mural back, and it’s going to be bigger and better,” said Earl Lugo, who sponsored the first mural. “The ball is rolling.”
A nearby insurance salesman who has supported the league was stunned by the defacement and pledged to help pay to bring the original artist, Hector “Nicer” Nazario, back to Orlando.
“I couldn’t believe what I was reading,” said Don Cerenzio, who said Clemente was a childhood hero when he grew up in New York City.
“It broke my heart.”
With the help of Cerenzio and others who can help pay for travel and paint costs, Lugo said that the artist Nazario, a childhood friend, already had agreed to come back to do another mural for free.
“My heart dropped,” said Nazario, who plans to return next month to paint something “grander.” Clemente’s humanitarian work made him a real hero, Nazario said, so one goal of the mural was to spark conversations between children and parents about who he was.
“Kids nowadays don’t have someone like that to look up to,” Nazario said.
Residents discovered the defaced mural Wednesday. Orlando police are investigating after a report was filed by the principal of the Azalea Park Elementary School, where the mural once stood.
“It has been completely painted over by an unknown suspect,” the police report stated. The principal “could not place a value on the cost to replace the mural … as it can not be repaired.”
That reality struck one Clemente fan from Kentucky as “senseless.” David King, a Louisville resident, wanted to help pitch in to replace the mural because the Hall of Fame baseball player was his first hero when he was a child.
When Clemente died in a plane crash delivering earthquake-relief aid to Nicaragua, King wrote a childhood letter to his widow — his first letter to someone not named Santa Claus.
“I’ve always believed that in many important ways Clemente was to Hispanics, and Puerto Ricans in particular, what Jackie Robinson was for the black community,” King wrote in an email. “I think his image as an icon of the community and the sport are well-earned, richly deserved and worth preserving.”
The director of the University of Central Florida School of Visual Arts & Design agreed and was reaching out to the community to offer student help with some type of additional public-art project to respond to the vandalism.
“As a baseball fan, and having some personal and professional experience with community development and public art, I was saddened to hear of the loss of this iconic neighborhood mural,” said Byron Clercx in an email.
Offers of help also came from the Orange County Regional History Center, which hosted a 2012 Smithsonian exhibition titled “Beyond Baseball: The Life of Roberto Clemente.”
“Our whole department was just devastated,” said Emilie Arnold, a center official.
State Sen. Darren Soto, D-Orlando, also urged his Facebook friends to offer donations for a replacement, adding that, “as with many tragedies, we will rebuild.”
Carlos Guzman, president of the Puerto Rican Leadership Council, said that group wants to see what police turn up before responding to the incident.
“We can’t take action when we still don’t know what happened — if it is an act of racism or if it is an internal dispute,” Guzman said.
Guzman, who once suggested changing the name of Colonial High School to Roberto Clemente High, said that the field where the mural stood is an “orphan” park that school and local officials don’t look after very well.
Late Thursday night, Guzman emailed an open letter to Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and other government leaders, in which he asked for coordinated government “efforts to remodel the facilities and make the required budget appropriations for a sufficient dedicated maintenance program every year.”
In the letter, Guzman said he awaited a “positive answer” from civic leaders in the next 10 days.