“Barry Bonds said everyone could start the countdown to Henry Aaron when he hit his 750th home run. Ladies and gentleman, start your counting.” – Henry Schulman, San Francisco Chronicle, 6.30.07
I’m off to the land of honkbal later today, so I won’t be posting for a while, but I wanted to say one last thing before I go:
Thank you, Hank Aaron. By the time I get back to the daily boxscores you may no longer hold the record for most career home runs, but to me you always were and always will be the Home Run King. I bought my first baseball cards in 1974, when I was six and you were on the brink of breaking a record that was thought unbreakable. For whatever reason, I seemed to need gods, and I found them in cardboard rectangles, and the cardboard rectangles that held your image always shined the brightest. My family was in a new house that year, in a new town, a new state. My father had not come along. We house-sat for a year, then moved into another house bought for cheap in a foreclosure auction. The room I would share with my brother had been damaged by the evicted former owners, as had all the rooms in the house, the walls riddled with beebee holes and obscene graffiti. I have written about that house a lot, often focusing on the early days, on the feeling that something in the universe was telling me I wasn’t welcome. After those early days I went where I was welcome, into the cardboard rectangles, into the baseball encyclopedia, into library books about baseball, into the game itself, playing for my little league team whenever the long Vermont winter finally relented, playing with my brother whenever he’d agree to, playing by myself with a glove and a tennis ball and the various jagged angles of the exterior of our house. And everywhere I went into that welcoming world, you were there, Hank Aaron, shining down from the pinnacle, majestic and benevolent, the King of the Cardboard Gods.
Two days ago my brother’s wife gave birth to their second child, Theo. Nobody could ever love a kid more than my brother loves his daughter, but Ian admits to being excited about the gender of the newest arrival.
“It’s not about, ‘Oh, now I can teach him sports . . .’,” he said, his tired voice trailing off.
“No, I get it. You were a boy.”
When my brother was a boy he idolized Hank Aaron even more than I did. On the wall above his bed, a wall that had in our rawest days in the house served as a canvass for a beebee riddled invitation to lewd sex acts, he had a large poster of the moment Hank Aaron became the all-time home run champion. It was a panoramic shot of the moment, showing Al Downing on the mound and Hank Aaron still in the batter’s box, his classic, compact swing in its follow-through, his head craned up to follow the flight of the ball, which was high above the outfield, a tiny white blur haloed by the makers of the poster for emphasis. When my brother was a boy he was not always happy, but he dreamed every night below this holy tableau.
Anyway, that’s my answer to today’s Nagging Question. So let me throw it to you:
If given the chance, what would you say to Henry Louis Aaron?