By BRIAN WOODSON

Bluefield Daily Telegraph



What’s harder to watch than Barry Bonds trying to tie Hank Aaron’s all-time home run record? How about waiting for Bonds to break Aaron’s record?

That’s right. If Bonds ever does tie Aaron with No. 755, then we’ll be subjected to more Bonds, waiting for him to break the mark.

Please, Barry, do us all a favor and get it over with. At this rate, even the Giants fan aren’t going to care anymore.

Or, call it a career, and let Hammerin’ Hank keep the record.

There are certain dates that stand out in our lives. For me, one of those is April 8, 1974.

It was late in the evening and I was sitting in the family den at our home near Huddleston in Bedford County, Va. I was hoping to see history made.

There was — much like Tom House would soon realize — a catch involved.

Being only 10 years old, I had to be in bed by 9 p.m., and there would be no exception on this night, no matter whether a baseball record stood to be broken or not.

That meant I had one at-bat, maybe two.

At that time, baseball wasn’t on every night like it is now. There was a Saturday afternoon game and a Monday night game. I rarely missed either one, although I never got to see the end of a Monday game. This night would be no different.

The Los Angeles Dodgers and the Atlanta Braves were to meet at Fulton County Stadium, and the game would be televised on ABC.

There was no guarantee it would be done. It might take several at-bats or it might not happen for days or weeks, much like what we’re enduring now with Bonds and this never-ending media circus.

Sitting there in front of the television, I knew the chances weren’t good. I had a clipboard and a piece of paper. Even then I kept score in a baseball game. That continues to be a passion that of mine. I love to pull out a scorebook and keep score.

I wish I had kept that piece of paper. That’s long gone, as is the Hank Aaron autograph that I received in the mail from him a few years later when he was the Brewers.

In Aaron’s first at-bat in the second inning, he walked. By the time he returned to the plate in the fourth, it was getting dangerously close to 9 p.m. This would be my last chance.

It was almost like Aaron knew. On a 1-0 pitch and with Darrell Evans on first base, Aaron crushed an Al Downing pitch over the left field fence. Babe’s mark was broken.

At the time, I didn’t understand all that Aaron had gone through. I learned eventually how stupid and hurtful racism is. How could a person be subjected to such injustice simply because a black man dared to break a record long held by a white icon. Please. How stupid was that.

I still remember watching as House caught Aaron’s two-run shot in the bullpen and ran in and gave it to Aaron. There would be no selling of a $3 baseball for a large fortune. The ball was given to its rightful owner.

I still remember a couple of fans coming out on the field, patting Aaron on the back as he approached home plate. There was a short ceremony, and that was it for me.

I went off the bed, content that I had seen history. I had poster of that moment on my wall for years.

The poster is long gone, the memories are not. More than 33 years later, that moment still lives on. Never mind that I can’t even remember names of relatives or hardly anything I learned in school. I still remember that home run.

That record is about ready to be broken. Eventually, Bonds will get it done. We may be subjected to watching every Giants game from now until the end of the season, but it will happen.

Do I care? Yes. I don’t know if Bonds did anything wrong or not. All the allegations are out there, and Bonds certainly hasn’t handled any of this well. Maybe if his father was still alive, he could have helped him through it.

Still, Bonds went through nothing like what Aaron had to endure. I don’t remember a lot about that, but I do know that Aaron handled it with class, answered all the questions, and still dealt with the idiocy of racism through it all.

Today, Aaron is remembered as one of the greatest players, but also one of the underappreciated superstars in history.

If his record must be broken, get it over with. Bonds can do it. The year that Bonds hit 73, I saw him hit five of them in a two-game span in Atlanta.

I actually saw him smile after one of them.

No matter when Aaron’s mark is tied and broken, I’ll always smile every time I think of that April night so many years ago.

The night the real home king was crowned.

—Contact Brian Woodson at bwoodson@bdtonline.com

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