A Boy and His Hero, Twenty-Five Years Later
by Sandy Tolan
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When I was a kid, I had three heroes: my dad; Bart Starr, the quarterback of the Green Bay Packers; and the man who played right field in my hometown -- Henry Aaron of the Milwaukee Braves. Hammerin' Hank hailed from Mobile, Alabama. He was six feet tall and 180 pounds, unremarkable compared to today's Paul Bunyans of the weight room. But Hank possessed wrists of lightning. In his powerful hands, the bat snapped across the plate, turning a baseball into a bullet: fired past the pitcher's ear, streaking six feet over second base, and smoking into the first row of the center field bleachers. Facing the pitcher, he looked to some like he was sleeping. But when the pitch came, he pounced. Trying to sneak a fastball past Henry Aaron, an opposing pitcher once said, was like trying to sneak the sun past a rooster.
Number 44 didn't have the stout flamboyance of Babe Ruth, the electricity of Jackie Robinson, or the flash of Willie Mays. But Hank was our jewel in the Milwaukee outfield, a man of speed, and power, and grace, and brilliance. Hank was as good as anyone; he was just quiet about it. Willie Mays's fans forever point to his astonishing catch in the 1954 World Series off the drive from Cleveland's Vic Wertz. Sprinting to the center field wall, his back to home plate, Mays caught the ball over his shoulder. As he turned to throw back toward the infield, his cap fell off.
Hank Aaron, said a teammate, would have made the same catch.
Except he would have kept his cap on.
Copyright © 2000 by Sandy Tolan. Excerpted with permission.