BRADENTON, Fla. — At just five years old, outfielder Jose Tabata’s father told him stories of Roberto Clemente. He showed him videos, articles in the paper, everything. But the young Tabata was unaware of who he was.
As Tabata got older, his father told him, ‘one day, I want to see you play with the Pittsburgh Pirates’.
“I said, ‘Who is the Pittsburgh Pirates? Because I [didn’t] know, I was five years old,” Tabata said. “He said, ‘I’ll let you know later.’ All the time he told me about Roberto..I love him. He’s the best. He’s not here right now but, for me, I have him in my heart.”
So much in fact that Tabata has a tattoo of Clemente on his chest.
You can imagine the emotions that Tabata and his family felt when he was traded from the New York Yankees to the Pirates in July of 2008. Pittsburgh being the team that ‘The Great One’, Clemente played for from 1955-1972.
“I cried a little bit because I was so proud,” Tabata said. “My life has changed for me, because my father told me later that when I was traded to here that it was unbelievable. It’s very good. I don’t know how to explain to you how it feels. But it’s very good.”
Tabata was moved from left field to right in August of 2011 after Alex Presley returned to the Pirates from the disabled list. The right field at PNC Park, features a ‘Clemente Wall’, has the out-of-town scoreboards and is 21 feet tall by 21 feet wide. Tabata said he still remembers that day, August 17, 2011, when he saw his name on the lineup card with the No. 9 next to it.
“I was so proud when I saw the lineup, and in right field. I said, ‘wow. Really?’ It’s good,” Tabata said. “I feel comfortable [playing there now]. Before I play[ed] right field with the Yankees, it was my regular position. Right now, I feel better because I’ve [been] practicing a lot in right.”
In order to improve on his defense in right, Tabata has been working with first base coach Luis Silverio, who is also the team’s base running and outfield coach, extensively this spring.
“PNC is short[er than left], so right field is more comfortable for me since I don’t throw too hard to the bases,” Tabata said. “I don’t care if I’m playing right, center, left, I want to be in the lineup everyday, so I [can] do my job.”
Over the offseason Tabata said he worked hard on getting his body into shape — especially his legs. Tabata spent nearly two months on the disabled list in 2011 with a left quad strain. He knows the importance of needing to stay healthy the entire 162 game season.
“I worked on my legs,” Tabata said of his offseason workouts. “I’ve had problems with my legs [last year]. I worked out in Venezuela and a little bit at Pirate City. I worked on my whole body, my upper body, because it’s very important in this game, the body.”
A big thing for Tabata this season is being consistent. The 23-year-old will bat mostly in the two spot behind Alex Presley with the Pirates. Tabata is coming off a .266 average, 53 runs, 18 doubles, four homers, and 16 stolen bases over 91 games in Pittsburgh.
“I’m looking to be consistent everyday,” Tabata said. “I got to be on the bases for [Andrew] McCutchen, [Garrett] Jones, [to] score a lot. I’m that base hit guy. I’m not a home run guy. I want to be consistent this year.”
So far this spring in the Grapefruit League, Tabata is hitting for a .200 clip over nine games.
“I’m very happy,” he said of his performance this spring. “I’m working hard. I’m working on my swing. That’s why it’s spring training. You got to get ready for the season.”