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The 9th Annual “Evening With Hank Aaron,” presented by Brewers Community Foundation and the Forest County Potawatomi Foundation, was held last night in the NYCE Stadium Club at Miller Park.
The exclusive event with the Hall-of-Famer, husband, philanthropist and businessman included a dinner with notables Hank’s former teammates Felix Mantilla and Johnny Logan, as well as former Brewers player Craig Counsell, now Special Assistant to the General Manager; a silent auction and a Q&A session with Hank hosted by Bob Costas, broadcaster with NBC Sports and the Major League Baseball Network. Each guest also received a professional photo with Hank, and a special gift autographed by him.
“My week goes from the sublime to the ridiculous,” Bob said in his introduction, referencing the fact that not only did he have the opportunity to interview Hank Aaron during the event, but that he will also be the emcee for Bob Uecker’s statue dedication on Friday.
The riveting interview touched on some of the adversity that Hank experienced en route to becoming the Home Run King.
Growing up in Mobile, Ala. Hank was told by his own father that he couldn’t be a pilot, something that he aspired to do as a young boy. “Forget about it boy, because there ain’t no colored pilots,” Hank recalled his father saying. When Hank told his father he would focus on baseball instead, his father told him, “You can forget about that too. Your only options are to become a school teacher or blow a saxophone.”
Hank didn’t let that stop him, though. And, when, as an 18-year-old, he attended a baseball camp with the Dodgers in Mobile and he was told, “Listen son, you’re too little, go home. You can’t play baseball,” he didn’t let that stop him either.
Coming up in the Negro and Minor Leagues, Hank started out as second baseman—batting cross-handed nonetheless—before he grew into the powerful home run hitter we remember him as.
And, even as his professional career flourished and he was chasing Babe Ruth’s home run record, there were a lot of people who wanted to see him break it, but there were also a lot of people who didn’t.
“The two years that I spent chasing Babe Ruth’s record were two years that I don’t talk about much because I have mixed feelings about it, really,” Hank said. During that time, he received a lot of hate mail and his family had to be protected.
In spite of those barriers, Hank prospered and is, as Bob noted, one of the two greatest players living today, along with Willie Mays.
“So, which one of you was better?” Bob asked.
Without missing a beat, Hank said, “I was! I say that jokingly. We played in many All-Star Games together and he truly was a great ballplayer, no question about that. But when I had a bat in my hand, I didn’t fear anybody. I didn’t think that anybody could get me out. I felt like I was in complete command of everything. I wasn’t worried about playing the outfield. I could steal a base when I wanted to; I felt like I had enough knowledge of how to run the bases. I didn’t have the strongest arm in the world, but I didn’t make too many mistakes throwing from right field. I felt like my baseball career was second to none and I didn’t take a backseat to anybody. I just played baseball. “
Hank talked about his two stints in Milwaukee, the city that bookended his career. He hit his first home run as a Milwaukee Braves player and his last as a Milwaukee Brewers player.
“This is the greatest city in the world. I loved playing here in Milwaukee… I don’t remember ever being boo’ed here….I always felt like I was treated fairly in Milwaukee. I was one of the first players to come through the system from Eau Claire to Jacksonville and I felt like I belonged in the city. I felt like people appreciated what I was doing.”
Throughout the night, fans were treated to a walk down memory lane as names like Joe Adcock, Wes Covington, Warren Spahn, Don Drysdale and more were bought up in a conversation that spanned a wide range of topics like pitchers Hank enjoyed facing, his greatest rivals and regrets, and how Hank and Bob each initially fell in love with the game.
And, while Hank’s statistical record speaks for itself, when Bob closed by asking him how he wishes to be remembered, Hank said,
“Not for whatever I did in baseball, but as someone who cared about other people. Baseball came easy to me, but I felt like there were other players who were capable of doing the things that I did. The most important thing is how I tried to treat other people. I’ve tried to live my life that way.”
And indeed, Hank is already living this legacy with the Hank Aaron Chasing the Dream Foundation, created by Hank and his wife, Billye. The foundation’s goal is to help children with limited opportunities and financial barriers develop their special talents and pursue their dreams.
All proceeds from the event benefit the fund and are administered locally to help children in the Milwaukee area.
A slideshow from the event is below. I hope you will join me in 2013!
To learn more about Brewers Community Foundation’s Evening with Hank Aaron and how you can support both BCF and the Hank Aaron Chasing the Dream Foundation, click here or contact Meredith Malone at email@example.com.