Baseball legend Henry Aaron passed away today at age 86. Another hero gone. In my mind's eye he is still wearing that classic Braves uniform from the 1960s or even that 70s look with the feather on the blue sleeve. But I will never forget when I got to see him play.
My dad, mom, and my two sisters piled in the station wagon and headed to Atlanta one summer. The Braves were playing the Cincinnati Reds, later to be one of the best teams of the 70s. They were loaded: Pete Rose, Johnny Bench and that bunch. But we went to see Hank.
My dad had told me stories of seeing Hank when he played for the Jacksonville minor league team before being called up to Milwaukee to the major leagues. There was a buzz in Jacksonville that this Aaron kid was something else. My rather skeptical dad had to see for himself. He said when Aaron first got up he swung and missed at a pitch in what my dad called a "lazy" swing; a slow, loping swing that you couldn't think would knock a ball out of the infield. My dad thought "I knew he was being too hyped." It was then the next pitch came across the plate, and with that same, slow "lazy" swing, Henry Aaron hit a line drive shot off of the left field fence. My dad said he'd never seen a ball hit so perfect, before or after. He was sold. So needless to say, Hank Aaron was well-loved in my family since before I was born. You could say I got it honestly.
That hot summer day in Atlanta, I was 9 years old and I lived for baseball. We got to the stadium and our seats were about 10 rows behind the Braves dugout. When Hank would come out of the dugout, my dad and I would look at each other like "there HE is!" I really think my dad was as excited as I was. If not, he made me feel good about my enthusiasm.
Aaron didn't have a special day at the plate. I didn't get to see him hit one of his 755 career home runs. I didn't have to see something monumental because that never defined Hank Aaron's greatness. It was his consistency, day in and day out, that made him great.
And in hindsight, that's how I think about my dad, my true hero. He didn't hit 700 homers or fly the space shuttle. But I'll never forget the day he didn't think he would be at my little league game because he was working out of town, but as I was on-deck, I hear him talking to me through the fence. I glowed. Knowing my dad busted his butt to get back home to see my game. Priceless. Stuff true heroes are made of.
Everything he did was monumental to me. but he got up every day, went to work, provided for a family and always found time every day for his children. Day-in and day-out. Maybe being at Fulton County that day I saw a hero I never met, but I went home with the same greatness we often overlook in our everyday heroes. Consistency.
My dad passed away in 2006. Maybe now he's telling Hank about that day. I think they'd really like each other. They are so much alike.