Growing up an Atlanta Braves fan, I would go to Turner Field at least once a year to catch the team in action.
If you approached the ballpark from the centerfield side, you may have parked in or walked past the green lot. Some of you may know that the green lot in its former life was actually Fulton County Stadium. Standing in that stadium turned parking lot to this day is a section of left-centerfield fence, and just beyond it is a large baseball sign with the number “715” painted on it. It marks the site of Hank Aaron’s record-setting 715th home run hit April 8, 1974.
Due to either poor eyesight or not being old enough to read yet, upon my first trip to the Ted I had no idea of the memorial’s real significance. Once it was explained to me though, I thought it was one of the coolest things in the world. Baseball’s home run king played for my favorite team. Not only that, but by every account I’ve read he was a better man than he was a baseball player, and he was a dang good baseball player.
Whenever someone passes away like Aaron did last week, people tend to want to share stories about them. Walking by the site where the man known as Hammerin’ Hank set the home run record is the closest thing I have personally, but someone I know well can do a lot better. My father, Marnie Pound, was inside Fulton County Stadium the day Babe Ruth’s record was broken, and was willing to help out with this week’s column by reflecting on that once-in-a-lifetime experience. He and five friends decided the day of the game they would go to Atlanta and try to witness history in person. They loaded up from what was then Middle Georgia College in Cochran to see about procuring some tickets. All quotes from here on out belong to my father.
“We had no idea we were going when we got up that morning. I told the lady at the ticket window we wanted the best tickets they had, and doggone if we didn’t get ‘em.”
They weren’t just in the building. They were seven rows behind home plate mere feet from where history was made. Joining this group of young scholars in the swanky seats were renowned performers of stage and screen Sammy Davis Jr. and Pearl Bailey. What was the cost for such high-profile seating? A cool $16 that might get you a beverage and some peanuts inside today’s ballparks.
Aaron waited until his second at-bat of the night to break the record against Dodger pitcher Al Downing. The reaction once ball met bat was what you’d expect.
“We just all jumped straight up and went to hugging everybody around us.”
Yes, even Sammy Davis Jr. got a hug from one of the members of dad’s party. And no, neither of the gentlemen who partially rounded the bases with Aaron came from the Middle Georgia College circle.
Fans present that night left with something more tangible than a memory. They were given certificates saying they were there to witness Aaron’s 715th home run. So why isn’t that incredible piece of sports memorabilia hanging in my dad’s house waiting to get passed down to me?
“Because we made paper airplanes out of them and threw them out the car window. We were just stupid. Seeing that home run record be broken was the chance of a lifetime, we just didn’t know it at the time. As I've gotten older I just keep thinking about how stupid we were.”
Even the member of my dad’s contingent who purportedly “had some sense” engaged in the airplane activity. Due to some unfriendly camera angles and youthful ignorance, beyond his word there is no actual proof my dad was there the night Hank Aaron broke the home run record.
“Nobody believes us now, but it’s all the truth. I remember it like it was yesterday.”
Memories and story sharing will just have to do. Those mean more than some silly old piece of paper, no matter what eBay might say.
Rest in peace, Mr. Aaron. Thanks for the memories, and for making a difference.