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Clemente exhibit opens on North Shore

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At the North Shore Saloon, a mere one-hop throw from Roberto Clemente's legendary right arm to The Great One's statue at PNC Park, Les Banos gazes at a photo he took of his best friend and smiles.

"When I look at this picture," said the Pirates team photographer from 1969-1977, pointing to the snapshot of Clemente crouching on Three Rivers Stadium's turf next to his three boys with wife Vera standing behind them, "it brings back such pleasant memories."

Keeping Clemente's memory alive is what motivated the new Clemente Exhibit At North Shore, located inside the North Shore Saloon across from PNC Park. The permanent exhibit, a collaborative effort between North Shore Saloon owner Mike Pitterich and Duane Rieder, owner and curator of the Roberto Clemente Museum in Lawrenceville, features Banos' photographs as well as memorabilia and a video chronicling Clemente's Hall of Fame career and humanitarian work.

"People who are old enough to have seen him play, we want to take down memory lane," said Jim Lachimia, a North Shore Saloon spokesman. "People who aren't old enough and maybe have only read about him or heard about him, we wanted to help create a vivid picture of who Roberto was, the kind of player he was and what he stood for. Out of respect for Roberto, we want to help keep his legacy alive."

The exhibit at 208 Federal Street is open from 11:00 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays and 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays when the Panthers and Steelers are away. Admission is $5 per person, with proceeds benefiting the Clemente Museum.

Fans can view pictures of Clemente receiving the 1971 World Series MVP Award, recording his 3,000th hit, and teaching youngest son Roberto Enrique the coiled-spring batting stance that produced 15 All-Star selections. Bats, helmets and a uniform from the Clemente Museum are also part of the exhibit.

"I'm an old baseball fan," Pitterich said. "I remember being eight, nine and seeing him play at Forbes Field." Pitterich marveled at the 38 ounce bat that the 5-foot-11, 175 pound Clemente used at the urging of Pirates hitting coach George Sisler, who hoped the heavy lumber would allow Clemente to stay back on the ball.

"The guys that weight lift now, they can't even touch the bat," Pitterich quipped. "We had Derrek Lee try out a similar bat the other day, and he got foul balls."

There's also Clemente's original 1956 contract. Clemente, then 21 and having just wrapped up his rookie season, rejected Pirates Vice President Branch Rickey Jr.'s offer of a $7,000 salary ($1,000 over the minimum) and sent a letter asking for $10,000.

"With my best wishes and looking forward to receive a new contract with the requested raise," he wrote, "I am, very truly yours, Roberto Clemente."

Banos likes how the exhibit captures Clemente off the field -- playing with his boys, chatting with reporters, flashing a pearly grin.

"People remember him not just as a ballplayer, but as a human being," Banos said. "He was never involved in any kind of scandal. He ran out every hit. He was a hustler and didn't play down to anybody. Many times he went to children's hospitals, but he didn't want anyone to know. One day I went with him in Puerto Rico and he changed $1,000 to smaller bills. He told me, 'Don't you tell anybody this,' and I never told anybody as long as he was alive. But we went to the poor neighborhoods and he spoke to them, and afterwards he handed them the money.

"He tried to uphold a good, clean tradition so people would respect through him the people of Puerto Rico," Banos said. "He was the best ambassador Puerto Rico could ever have."

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