Remembering Hank Aaron at the site of No. 715
Generations of fans visited the Atlanta landmark to celebrate Aaron’s life and contributions to baseball
Hank Aaron was far more than a Hall of Fame baseball player to me. He is an inspiration to me in many ways. Far beyond the baseball field, Aaron was a trailblazer who made a path for me and other young African American men, not just as an athlete and a sportswriter but as a man.
As a college student from Atlanta attending Clark Atlanta University, a historically Black college and university, I live just 30 seconds from where Aaron hit his 715th home run to break Babe Ruth’s record. Nearly every day that motivates me. Seeing both Black and white people gaze and gather around Aaron’s home run statue Friday after hearing the news of his death demonstrated the impact that he left on others besides me.
When I visited the site on Friday, I ran into Add Seymour, director of media relations at Clark Atlanta. He stood in front of the home run statue and shared his thoughts about Aaron.
“Hank Aaron meant a lot to me because as a child he was my first sports hero. I was 5 when he hit 715, and my grandfather and I sat at home in Nashville and watched it on Monday Night Baseball,” he said. “It was a cultural moment for Black America. It meant a whole lot, especially for somebody as young as I was.
“I loved him as a ballplayer. He was like the man’s man as a ballplayer. He was my hero as an athlete and as a man, so meeting him years later meant a whole lot to me.”
As an athlete growing up, Aaron inspired me to play baseball in high school. Although I did not excel in baseball as I did in other sports, knowing the history of how Aaron broke barriers in the major leagues gave me confidence that anything was possible. Beyond being an athlete, he endured a lot as a Black man, at one point receiving some 3,000 letters with death threats a day. His rising above the racial slurs hurled at him because of his skin color further solidified my respect.
Grant Bennett, a Morehouse College graduate and former baseball player for the Maroon Tigers, reminisced Friday on Aaron’s legacy.
“From the time that I was a kid, there has always been the same picture of Hank Aaron in my bedroom and I have that same picture till this day. Hank Aaron was the tie to the Negro Leagues for a lot of us and someone who came out of that system and became arguably the greatest power hitter we’ve ever seen in the history of baseball,” Bennett said.
“I think Hank Aaron is one of the most underappreciated cultural and sports icons ever but he generally was one of the greatest we have ever seen. As a Black boy growing up playing baseball, you always dreamed of one day meeting Hank Aaron and I was blessed enough to do that,” said Bennett. “I’m happy that I got the chance to tell him thank you for everything he has done and for my life as a Black man who plays baseball. I’m extremely devastated about the loss, but his legacy will live forever.”
Knowing how he rose above the unfairness and bigotry while representing the African American community with grace and humility is something I am most grateful for and something I strive toward.
“I couldn’t believe that I was sitting next to Hank Aaron and I’m telling him about that night when I was 5 with my grandfather when he had 715 here in Atlanta. I still kind of tear up a little bit on that because it was so special,” said Seymour.
On Friday, more than the sports world mourned the loss of Aaron, yet his legacy as a hero, trailblazer, icon and man who taught me that anything is possible through hard work, dedication and perseverance lives on. I’m going to continue to live life with that same confidence and fearlessness that Aaron showed all of us.
“He did everything with class and integrity and that’s something I strive for myself. That’s something I’m going to tell my kids and their kids kids about, the impact that Hank Aaron had not only on the game of baseball but in my life and in the Black community as a whole,” said Kaelan Ashford-Jones, a Morehouse College graduate and former Maroon Tigers baseball player.