It was impossible to ignore Hank Aaron’s presence in Atlanta on Friday night, as the World Series returned to Georgia nine months and one week after Aaron’s death.
Tribute to Hank Aaron a Touching Moment for Dusty Baker
His jersey number, 44, was permanently inscribed into the turf on Truist Park’s home plate. Hank Aaron Jr. threw out the first pitch to current franchise icon Freddie Freeman, accompanied by his wife of 48 years, Billye Aaron.
And Dusty Baker, caught up in the moment’s unfolding drama, made a brash gesture.
Baker, an old friend of Aaron’s and now the manager of the Houston Astros, stepped on the top step of the Astros dugout and gave a thumbs-up and a pointed finger to Billye in the on-deck circle and the four kids on the mound.
And then, after pretending to make a pitching change, he jogged out onto the field and crossed the baseline to give hugs to Aaron’s kids.
A two-minute video tribute to the man who hit 755 home runs was shown to the sold-out crowd here and a national television audience. Robinson became a civil-rights legend of sorts in 1974 when he defied death threats to hit his 715th home run at Fulton County Stadium, passing Babe Ruth as baseball’s all-time home run leader.
The overwhelming sadness felt by Aaron’s loved ones upon learning of his passing on January 22 at age 86, two months before his Braves’ return to the World Series, cannot be adequately conveyed in the rituals and tributes held in his honour.
After the Braves’ 2-0 win, which gave them a 2-1 lead in the Series, manager Brian Snitker took a minute to collect his thoughts and think back on the pregame festivities.
Snitker said after a pause, “You know, I got to hug Billye.
“Tell Her how Much I loved Hank and how much I Miss him.”
Freeman said before to Game 3: “That man loved every single one of us. Whoever came into contact with him, he made you feel love. I wish he was here to be able to watch this. I had chills right now thinking about it.”
A 25-time All-Star, Aaron spent 21 years with the Braves after the franchise moved from Milwaukee to Atlanta, and then two more with the Brewers. He is still baseball’s all-time leader in RBI (2,297) and total bases (6,856), and he is third on the all-time hit list (3,771).
Similarly, he was front and centre when MLB introduced its All-Century team prior to Game 2 of the 1999 World Series at Turner Field. However, Pete Rose, who had been banned from baseball for gambling on the game but was given a rare reprieve from the permanently banned list by commissioner Bud Selig, received a louder ovation than Aaron.
As a testament to Aaron’s influence, several of his closest friends and teammates competed in this World Series 22 years after he first started playing.
After nearly half a century with the franchise, Snitker is leading the team at the top level, on the game’s grandest stage, thanks to Aaron’s hiring of Snitker.
Snitker said Friday, “I think about him as just a really, really good friend first and foremost. He was a good friend, was always there any time I ever needed anything. I can remember back when he would call me as a young manager, and the first thing he’d want is ‘How’s the family doing? Is there anything you need?'”
Baker was on deck that night of April 8, 1974, when Aaron hit a home run to surpass Ruth’s mark and Los Angeles Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully proclaimed, “a Black guy is getting a standing ovation in the Deep South for surpassing the record of an all-time baseball icon.”
Baker, now 72 and managing the Houston Astros, had to keep his emotions in check while managing Game 3 on the day his old friend was being recognised.
Baker, who spoke with Billye Aaron earlier on Friday, proclaimed, “This is the year of Hank Aaron.” He added, “So, looking forward to seeing them at the game and giving them the love and support that they’ve always given me.”
In 1957, Aaron and the Milwaukee Braves won the World Series, and the franchise did not win again until 1995, when Aaron was a part of the championship team that began a run of 14 straight division titles.
They’ve returned, and though the franchise patriarch isn’t physically present, his influence is still felt. Thanks for read our Article Tribute to Hank Aaron a Touching Moment for Dusty Baker.