When you are Hank Aaron, you probably have fond memories from many ball parks minor and major league across the country.
Its been 60 years since Aaron, the fall-of-famer who hits 755 home runs, played in his final minor league baseball game with the Jacksonville Braves in Columbia. He returned to Capital City Stadium on Wednesday night and answered a series of questions for the 3,122 fans on hand before throwing out the first pitch in the contest between the Columbia Blowfish and the Martinsville Mustangs in Coastal Plain League action.
He was invited by Blowfish president and owner Bill Shanahan to help support the Chasing the Dream foundation and the Hank Aaron Childhood Museum. Shanahan was one of the main parties responsible for moving Aarons childhood home to the Hank Aaron Stadium in Mobile, Ala., to create a museum.
Bill and I go back a long ways, Aaron said before he greeted invited guests that included Columbia mayor Steve Benjamin and Richland County sheriff Leon Lott in the Stadium Club. He moved my home in Mobile, Alabama, and I got to know him pretty well. Its just an honor to be back here.
Shanahan was more than honored to bring the 79-year old Aaron back to the Midlands.
It was my honor to bring the true all-time home run king to Columbia after he played his last minor league baseball game here 60 years ago, Shanahan said. I was humbled that he accepted my invitation, but thats the man he is. Hes a man of integrity, a man that loves the game of baseball and a man that wants to help others with his Chasing the Dream foundation. Im thankful the fans got a chance to hear and see him.
Even though its been so long since Aaron played in that game in Columbia, he recalls several highlights from Columbia in 1953.
He recalled one game in which he went 4-for-4 with a home run, a triple and two singles. He stole second base after one of the singles but was quickly tagged out after he allowed the second baseman to trick him into lifting his foot off the bag.
The second baseman told me to take my foot off the base for a second and he tagged me out, Aaron said. I recalled one of the coaches at that time kept me out here until 12 or 1 oclock practicing sliding and staying on the bag and not moving.
Aaron also told of the story of how he earned the nickname Hammerin Hank. It was after he started his career in Milwaukee and the Braves traveling secretary, Donald Davis, gave him the moniker and it stood the test of time.
It stuck with me all those years, Aaron said. Amazing.
Aarons Jacksonville team won the Sally League 1953 regular-season championship by 21/2 games over Columbia but the two met in the finals of the Shaughnesy championship series with the Columbia Reds coming out on top 4-3 in the series.
They won the final game 4-2, and Aaron, who was then a second baseman, went 0-for-4 and committed a crucial error.
He went to spring training the next season and, after the Braves suffered several key injuries in their outfield, he changed positions and stuck with the big-league club to begin his career. He finished with 3,771 hits, 624 doubles and 2,297 RBIs to go along with a .305 career batting average.
Aaron returned to Capital City Stadium in 1960 and 1961 when the Braves major league squad played exhibition games in Columbia. In his last official at-bat in historic Capital City Stadium, he doubled before he was lifted in the fourth inning for a pinch runner.
He is well aware that Capital City Stadium could be in its final season of hosting baseball, and he understands that stadiums such as that one hold irreplaceable memories for generations of fans.
I started looking back at some of the records, and I had some pretty good days in this ball park, hitting home runs and things, Aaron said. I remember some great things in this ballpark. It saddens you to see old ball parks torn down.