The Hank Aaron Record and My Dad
While I have very close friends who are HUGE baseball fans, I've never known a bigger one than my dad.
He had his favorites--the Cardinals and, oddly enough, the A's--but he'd watch ANY game if it was on and would stay up until all hours to finish one, regardless of who was playing.
I have never been the biggest baseball fan but I have a deep love and appreciation for its history, for its place in popular culture, for the fact that it's an indelible component of Americana.
And I attribute that respect to how Dad felt about the game.
In April of 1974, I guess I was back in my room playing when, all of a sudden, my dad started yelling.
I bolted into the living room immediately after Hank Aaron had hit his 715th home run, breaking the great Babe Ruth's record. I didn't see the actual hit, but I was there for the celebration afterward.
When the news came today that Hammerin' Hank had passed away at the age of 86, I was taken back to that April day in '74--a day that, at the time, really didn't mean much but grew in importance as the years passed and I saw how difficult it is for such feats to occur.
While such accomplishments didn't appear to be difficult for Aaron, the times in which such accomplishments came to pass were. He had to endure vile hatred because he was Black and excelling in America's most popular sport. I was watching a special about him on ESPN today as viewers were shown images of repugnant letters he had received containing the kind of reprehensible language I'm not repeating here.
And despite it all, he never stopped playing. Hank would go on to knock 40 more out of the park before his playing career came to an end in 1976. But by then, at age 42, he was an icon. As a child, I thought of him as a figure of myth, like Paul Bunyan. And this was while he was still ACTIVE. That's the size of his footprint on American sports.
That day in April, I sat on the couch and watched the interviews and the flash bulbs and the exhilaration. And I watched my dad just stare at the TV. The sport he loved had just delivered a magical moment for the ages. It was an important moment for him.
It was an important moment for all of us.