The Union Recorder


April 12, 2014

ROWLAND: After 40 years, the memory is still sweet

MILLEDGEVILLE — I have been trying to remember a time when sports were not an important part of my life, but I can’t. My earliest memories of athletics take me back to recreation football. I’m guessing I was about second or third grade, but I really can’t be sure.

I do know that I was never a big kid, so recreation football must have been my first experience as an overachiever. Of course, football season gave way to basketball season, which ran up against track and baseball season.

I did them all.

Truth be told, I was never really very good at any of them. I hit a growth spurt during my junior high years that made me at least as big as the other kids on the football team. That growth thing died by 10th grade, and I was back to playing the role of overachiever.

High school marked the end of my athletic career, but to stay close to the game I talked the powers that be into letting me do public address announcing for the football games at my high school alma mater. I even did a little announcing of basketball games in college.

Anything to stay close to a ball.

About midway through my college career, I finally decide the best thing I could do was see if I couldn’t make a living from the whole athletics thing. In large part, my love for the game - any game - landed me in a teaching career.

I coached at the junior high and high school level before trading in my whistle for an administrative job. All that did was change my view from the sideline. I can’t even begin to count the number of high school football, basketball, baseball, softball and soccer games I’ve attended.

Ok, maybe I know how many soccer games because I avoided them if at all possible.

I’ve been to track meets, tennis matches, wrestling tournaments and golf matches. Looking back on it, I wouldn’t have traded the experiences or the lessons afforded to me by sports for anything in the world.

So when my good friend and great American Pat Schofill announced that we had tickets to the Atlanta Braves home opener, well it just seemed natural that we should go. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the highlight of the evening was the 40th anniversary of Hank Aaron’s 715th homerun. Just in case you didn’t know, Babe Ruth held the previous record at 714.

Now, I’ve been to a ton of Braves games since my first one back in the mid-1970s. I’ve seen Hank Aaron play in person. I even saw him hit a homerun once even though I cannot remember which number it was.

Speaking of numbers, during the pre-game ceremony, 715 fans holding large placards that looked like baseballs filled the outfield. Each placard had the number of the homerun and the date the homerun was hit.

For example, number one was hit on April 24, 1954. Number 715 on April 8, 1974. Hall of Fame announcer Pete Van Wierin was the master of ceremonies, and even Commissioner of Baseball Bud Selig said a few words.

And then there was Hank. Now I have to tell you that in the age of arrogance, Ole’ Hank is a breath of fresh air.

His kind voice, his kindred spirit, and his humble demeanor were evident as he used a walker to assist him to the podium. Recovering from recent hip replacement surgery, his steps were impaired, but his love of the game and the fans who support it was not.

And as he spoke, I just had the feeling that there will never be another one like him.

Thanks, Hank, for the great memories and for being a class act in a world that often forgets to honor the humble.


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