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Remembering Henry Aaron

January 23, 2021

Hugh Atkins

Henry Aaron is the reason I’m a baseball fan. He was 32 years old before I knew he existed, but I like to say that I grew up with him.

My first exposure to baseball was a televised game in the spring of 1966.  The Atlanta Braves were playing the New York Mets, and my attention was drawn to a player attempting to steal second base. As the runner slid into the bag, the ball skipped into center field, and the runner popped up and scooted to third.  As the player stood at third base quietly dusting off his pants, the television emblazoned the name “Henry Aaron” across the bottom of the screen. I was hooked on baseball, and Aaron was my favorite player from that moment on.

1966 Pure Oil Collection

Aaron played in the days before super stations and ESPN. I followed him over the radio on WSM-AM 650 out of Nashville.  I watched him on television whenever I could, but since he played in Atlanta, that was not very often. I saw him play in person for the first time in 1967 when he was 33 years old, and I was just short of nine. I watched on television when Aaron, at 35, hit home runs in the first two games of the National League Championship Series in 1969. I listened to him hit a homer in the third game of that series, just before my teacher made me switch off my transistor radio.

Aaron was 37 in 1971 when he hit his first home run in an All-Star game. That same summer the Atkins clan traveled back to Atlanta, and we saw Aaron hit a home run live and in person. I watched the 1972 All-Star game on TV, and Aaron hit another homer, this time in front of the home folks in Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium.

At the beginning of my sophomore year in high school, Aaron hit his 40th  home run of the 1973 season, leaving him one homer short of the Babe heading into the off-season. Aaron tied the Big Bambino with his first swing of the 1974 season on Opening Day in Cincinnati. I watched from our living room in Cheap Hill when Aaron, still strong at 40, hit home run number 715 in Atlanta.

Sean Atkins – 44

Ford Shearon – 44

Aaron returned to Milwaukee and wrapped up his career, playing two seasons with the Brewers. He retired following the 1976 season, shortly after I started college.

Aaron was easy to admire; he played the game with a quiet grace. He never dove for a fly ball; he was always there waiting on it to come down. His cap didn’t fly off when he ran the bases; he glided from base to base, sharply cutting the corners. When he slid, he went in feet first and popped up ready to take the next base if the ball got away from the fielder.

I never outgrew my fascination with Henry Aaron. I played many a season of slow-pitch softball, wearing jersey number 44. I convinced our son Sean to wear 44 whenever I could, and the influence even filtered down a third generation to Ford Shearon, one of my great nephews. For a few years I had a vanity plate with HA 44 on it. Lots of people thought they were my initials and would ask “Why the 44?”

Tennessee Tag # HA 44

I was able to follow Hank Aaron for only 11 seasons of his career. But those were the last 11 years of my childhood. That’s why I say I grew up with him.

Henry Aaron passed away yesterday, two weeks shy of his 87th birthday.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Lamar Bradley permalink
    January 31, 2021 8:35 am

    Barry Bonds may have the numbers, but for many baseball fans, Henry Aaron will always be the All Time Home Run King.


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