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Azalea Park’s defaced Roberto Clemente mural continues to inspire controversy

Promises of replacing baseball-park painting aren't enough for some

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School board responds to requested renovations in Azalea Park

Roberto Clemente, of the Pittsburgh Pirates, is a respected figure in the world of Major League Baseball, especially for Azalea Park’s Puerto Rican community. So why would someone paint over his portrait on a Little League field mural? No one knows who the culprit is, but the move has inspired some finger-pointing between advertisers, the city of Orlando and school officials.

Carlos Guzman, the president of the Puerto Rican Leadership Council, is seeking retribution for the vandalism of Clemente’s mural, and he is furious at the lack of legitimate responses he’s received. He sent a letter to Mayor Buddy Dyer, City Commissioner Tony Ortiz, OCPS chairman Bill Sublette and school board member Daryl Flynn, among other officials, asking that they remodel the facilities at Azalea’s Little League Park. “The community would like to have a positive answer from you within the next 10 days,” he wrote.

In a letter in response to Guzman’s request, Luis Martinez, director of multicultural affairs for the office of the mayor, wrote, “The Orlando Police Department is conducting an investigation regarding this incident. … They are working in a collaborative effort in order to also address the park’s fields.”

During an OCPS meeting on Feb. 19, responsibility was taken into the hands of the school board, with additional support from Commissioner Clark and Little League board members.

The park has been neglected for years and will get a facelift around mid-March, according to Flynn. “I look for the mural to be repainted soon, so that the inspiration of Roberto Clemente returns to remind these Little Leaguers that they, too, can aspire to do great things.”

The park, at 53 years old, is the oldest Little League field in Florida. It is considered a landmark to many, as the blood, sweat and donations from locals in the community have kept it running. Anthills have pockmarked the landscape, and weeds have taken over the field. With its broken fences and scarred concession stands, the dugout may seem an eyesore to some, but people in the community look upon the space with the knowledge of its history.

Joel Piñeiro, who went on to play for the Baltimore Orioles as a pitcher, found his feet in Azalea Park. Joe Oliver, from the Cincinnati Reds, once played in the field. Clemente himself has ties to the park, as his mural gave inspiration to children to follow their own dreams of escaping a run-down town and making it big.

Earl Lugo, former coach and president of Azalea Park Little League and friend of artists Hector “Nicer” Nazario and Wilfredo “Bio” Feliciano, said he’s asking for donations to fly the artists in from New York to repaint the mural.

“Clemente is going back up. We saw the effect it had and we want to give back to everybody a little more. The public will be amazed,” Lugo said.

But it’s not enough for Guzman, who said he won’t rest until he receives acknowledgement from every member of the board that the park will be given the attention it needs, guaranteed.

In an email in response to Martinez’s letter, Guzman wrote, “Thank you for your email. I must insist in receiving a direct reply from all the elected officials to whom I directed my email to, including Mayor Dyer, who is the elected official that heads the city of Orlando government and represents most of the families affected by this issue.”

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