ATLANTA – Moments after fans at Truist Park sang their usual tomahawk chop, which many see as a racist gesture that insults Indigenous people, they gave a standing ovation to Billye Aaron, Hank Aaron’s widow, during the a pre-game tribute to the Hall of Fame Player who passed away in January.
Aaron’s courageous pursuit to break Babe Ruth’s home run record in the face of racist abuse has made him a pioneering symbol of progress for many black Americans. His death sparked a wave of love and tributes across baseball and the country.
(Atlanta originally hoped to honor Aaron at the All-Star Game in July, but Major League Baseball moved the game to Denver to protest a Georgian law that established new voting restrictions and which Democrats and Democrats say. Voting groups who have condemned the law, unfairly target voters of color.)
All season long, the outfield at Truist Park featured a giant number 44, Aaron’s jersey number, painted on the grass. When Atlanta won the National League pennant this month, the team and MLB finally decided to honor Aaron in front of a national television audience, ahead of the World Series team’s first home game. which was Friday Game 3.
“I think we, the players at this clubhouse, felt that we had to do something so that his life could somehow be celebrated on the bigger stage,” said Tyler Matzek, Atlanta’s relief pitcher. “It’s a little more motivation just to go out there and show what the Braves are, and he was what the Braves were.”
The ceremony included a video tribute that aired in the stadium and on the national Fox show. It included descriptions of Aaron’s role in helping to integrate baseball after arriving in Milwaukee in 1954 – seven years after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier – and the importance of running when ‘he overtook Ruth in 1974. He also mentioned his impact as a role model for millions of Americans.
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Billye Aaron stood on a round red carpet at the side of the field and waved to the fans as they cheered him on, then Dusty Baker, the Houston Astros manager who was a close friend of Aaron, stepped out of the dugout. visitors and jogged to the mound, where he hosted three of Aaron’s children, Hank, Jr. Gaile and Dorinda, and a grandson, Raynal Aaron.
Atlanta manager Brian Snitker was overwhelmed by the emotion of the moment as he discussed the ceremony after Atlanta’s 2-0 victory. Aaron had hired Snitker to coach in the minor leagues when Aaron was the manager of the Atlanta farm and he helped guide Snitker’s post-playing career. The two have become very close.
“I have to give Billye a hug,” Snitker said, then paused for several seconds, apparently holding back tears, before continuing, “and telling him how much I missed Hank.”
Aaron was also a mentor for Baker, who joined Atlanta as a rookie in 1968 and played seven years with Aaron. Often cites the advice Aaron gave him and other teammates. Before the game, Baker noted that it was a strange and dark experience for him to come to Atlanta and not see Aaron there.
“It’s the most different kind of feeling I’ve had, that you can’t describe,” Baker said, “because I’m happy to be back here, but I’m sad to be back here. back here for the first time – other than Hank’s funeral – without Hank. “
Baker hugged each of Aaron’s children on the mound, then Hank Aaron Jr. threw the ceremonial first pitch to Atlanta star first baseman Freddie Freeman, who said ahead of the game that he had chills at the thought of what the ceremony would look like. .
“Whoever came in contact with him, he made you feel love,” Freeman said. “I wish he was there so I could watch this.”
The tribute was brief, in part because the team and MLB organizers said they believed Aaron, a low-key, low-key superstar, would have wanted the focus to be on the players and the game and not on him.
But it was important that the greatest player in franchise history, and one of history’s transcendent athletes, received recognition.
“It’s totally necessary,” Baker said. “This is the year of Hank Aaron.”