I originally wrote this for the paper two years ago. But since hearing of the death of Hank Aaron – one of my heroes in the world of baseball – I thought it good to revisit that day I met “Hammerin’ Hank” Aaron.”
I had on my favorite shirt. It was blue and had a huge football that looked like it was being shot out of a cannon. I thought it was a pretty cool design; a perfect shirt for a young sixth grader. But not exactly the proper attire for the event my childhood friend, Matt, and I walked into.
I realized that as soon as we walked in. Everyone there wore a mixture of suits with ties or bowties; some even had on two- and three-piece suits. Mine and Matt’s sneakers, jeans, and t-shirts, although tucked in, didn’t exactly complement the attire of the night. The looks on the gentlemen’s faces we sat next to said it all.
“Kids these days,” “No respect,” and I imagine a plethora of other like phrases probably went through the heads of the well-dressed men and women we sat next to and across from that night in 1997. I was embarrassed. Matt and I had looked forward to the night for weeks; we had our baseball cards and other memorabilia ready for him to sign. Two embarrassed kids sat across a sea of grown men and women in suits and dresses.
They looked dignified; they were dressed for the occasion. We, however, were two young kids who didn’t know any better.
That feeling soon gave way to excitement, though, when we saw that Hank Aaron just walked in.
Matt and I were best friends growing up. We met in a little baseball league mom and dad signed us up for. Baseball, basketball, some football, and video games bonded us two shy 12 and 13-year-olds when we first met. But of those, baseball was by the strongest. Thankfully, later, the bond would grow strongest as brothers in Christ.
We played home run derby’s in his large back yard – pitching matches in my smaller, gated yard. We practiced pitching and fielding grounders, followed by doing the jump, twist, and throw to first, more affectionately known as the “Derek Jeter.” And we got pretty good at it. We even got to attend some Texas Rangers games together, and we rarely missed them on the T.V.
Somehow we found out Hank Aaron was coming to Tyler for a dinner and question and answer session about his time in Major League Baseball. The then all-time leader in home runs, hall of famer, “Hammerin’ Hank” Aaron was coming within 30 miles of where we lived in Lindale.
Who could pass up the opportunity to see their hero up close and in person? We surely couldn’t. So we bought our tickets and waited for the day, talking and dreaming about it with the anticipation of two young baseball fanatics.
The day came.
Dad dropped us off and we walked in, only to find that we were woefully underdressed for the event. But by the time Hank walked in and we all ate at our tables and listened to him talk about life in the Majors, I don’t think it would have mattered what we were wearing, we were all kids in that room who got to hear their hero talk about America’s Pastime.
After the dinner, speech, and Q&A session, Hank stood at the front, where a long line of fans began to form. I had my baseball and pen at the ready as we stood in line, preparing what I was going to say and how I was going to say it. Not every day do you get to speak with a legend of the greatest American sport; I had to say something worthwhile.
I stammered and of course forgot what I was going to say as soon as I approached. But thankfully, he was gracious. We were the only two people under 30 there, and the only two not in formal wear. He knew we were there to see our hero. And patiently, he waited as we asked our questions.
And I don’t think he cared that we were in jeans and t-shirts. He looked at us and saw two wide-eyed kids who wanted nothing more than to talk with the man they looked up to so much. Hank smiled, signed our memorabilia, and talked with us for a few minutes about the sport he so loved.
You will be missed, Hank Aaron. Rest in Peace.
Joseph Hamrick is a semi-professional writer and sometimes thinker. He lives in Commerce and serves as a deacon at Commerce Community Church (C3). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org