It’s almost time for Opening Day. And while some want to turn this hallowed day of hooky into a national holiday, I’d like to remember the start to the 1974 season. Forty years ago, a forty year-old legend stepped into the batter’s box and smashed a ball out of the park and into history.
For a sports buff and baseball truist like myself, 715 is a mythical number when one legend (Aaron) surpassed another (Babe Ruth) to capture one of the most sacred records in the game. However, there is more than just sport at play in this scene.
As Aaron rounded second base in his historic home run trot, two white teenagers charged the field caught up to him and patted him on the back. Now charging the field is a hallowed sports tradition – though some want it to go the way of the dodo bird because of, well… certain dodos and members of their flock. Within a stable society, the scene of anyone rushing a field can be a little worrying. But in the deep South in the 1970s and for a black man to break a hallowed record in a sport with a long history of racism… well, any field-charging could have been flat-out dangerous.
Not so in Hotlanta, not so. After patting Aaron on the back the teens left him, partly because their business was finished and partly because security was chasing them. A few years back Aaron reunited with the two fans – check out the video here – and acknowledged that the two were just having fun and “didn’t mean any harm.” Even more, the home run and the field chargers combined to form a brief moment of congratulations, of euphoria, and of building bridges between races in a part of a country and in a sport rife with racial strife. The scene always puts a smile on my face because it shows what society could be if we both appreciate each other’s gifts and talents and express that appreciation – even if it does involve trespassing.
Cover photo: Screenshot by Vinny Marchionni, SJ