Sights & Sounds: Clemente walks it off on Senior Day

Dispatch from the Humboldt Park neighborhood, a Puerto Rican community on Chicago’s North Side.

Underclassmen on the baseball team at Roberto Clemente Community Academy typically get a nickname. There’s Bolo, Bebo and Big Baby. Senior Isiah Santos, “Big Baby” himself, loved his nickname so much, he had it stitched on his glove. Time will tell if sophomore David Silva grows to love “Bubba Shrimp.”

Silva made his older teammates proud on Saturday, giving Clemente a walk-off win against Kenwood. With the game tied 4-4 in the bottom of the seventh, Silva came up with the bases loaded. In just his third high school game, he stood confident in the batter’s box and crowded the plate.

The ball boinged off his helmet for a walk-off hit by pitch.

“If I’ve got to get hit by a pitch, I was going to take it, because we’ve got to win this game,” Silva said. “I got to take the hit for the seniors.”

The seniors were Silva’s inspiration to try out for the team this year. Eight Clemente seniors — James Solis, Geremyah “Spanky” Rivera, Zion Clinton, Isiah “Big Baby” Santos, Manuel Colon, Andrew Salgado, Raul Figueroa and Xavier Santiago — were presented flowers for their Senior Day ceremony after the game. Solis and Santos signed letters of intent to play baseball at Loras College (Iowa) and Prairie State College, respectively.

Isiah “Big Baby” Santos (left) and James Solis (right) sign letters of intent to play college baseball. (Mack Liederman/correspondent).

“But we weren’t the big story,” said Solis, the captain. “Bubba took one off the helmet for us and got that win. I was excited for him. And when he took off that helmet, I was happy to see he was OK.”

The seniors led Clemente’s rally in the seventh to set the table for Bubba’s big moment. Solis, rocking his own helmet covered in Naruto stickers, got on base to start the inning. It was Clemente’s last chance, down 4-1 to a Kenwood team that had led the entire game.

Rivera and Clinton drew walks to load the bases. Figueroa, coming up in the No. 4 spot, was 0-3 on the day with two strikeouts.

“The whole game I couldn’t hit nothing,” Figueroa said. “So all I was trying to do was make contact.”

Figueroa clobbered a double into the left-center gap to clear the bases and tie the game 4-4.

But the job wasn’t finished yet. Santos, “Big Baby,” a power hitting third basemen who dropped 65 pounds over quarantine, once ate a jelly donut before hitting a homerun. Up to bat in a big spot, Big Baby came up big in an unexpected way — with a short-rolling bunt down the third base line.

Coach John “Gino” Perez drew up the play. “I know I got a lot of big guys here, but most people don’t understand,” Perez explained. “Big Baby is one of the best bunters on the team.”

Big Baby’s bunt was followed by a walk to load the bases. Bubba Shrimp ended the game from there. The seniors piled on top of their young teammate in celebration. After Silva dusted himself off, Perez had only one question.  

“Do you remember what day it is?”

The team huddle erupted with laughter.

“Saturday,” Silva said.