Memory ?hammers' home

By Doug Gorman

I still remember Ms. Parsons' homework assignment like it was yesterday.

She instructed all of her third graders at Henry Elementary School in St. Louis to write a letter to a famous person. The purpose of the assignment was to work on our growing communication skills.

Some students wrote famous actors, one already ambitious classmate wrote to his congressman telling of his desire to someday receive an appointment to the United States Naval Academy, most of the boys in the class sent their letters to professional athletes.

That's the path I took, and after much thought, I decided to write Atlanta Braves' slugger Hank Aaron.

Like most boys growing up in the 1970s I loved baseball. At the time, I wasn't a Braves fan. That was long before satellite television piped Braves games around the world and still seven years before my family moved to Atlanta.

I wrote Aaron to wish him luck in his chase to catch Babe Ruth as the all-time home run hitter.

After Ms. Parsons corrected our grammatical errors, we re-copied our letters and mailed them off to our celebrity heroes.

We had fun seeing which of us received a reply to our letters. After weeks of checking the mail, it finally arrived. An envelop with a Atlanta Braves' logo arrived at my house.

Inside were pieces of Hank Aaron memorabilia, including a log listing all of his home runs, the date of each homer and the name of the pitcher who gave up the long ball. There was also blank spaces on the log so fans could fill in the info on the remaining home runs.

In my youthful naivete it was years before I wanted to admit that Mr. Aaron never saw my letter.

It was also that sheltered world that protected me from such things as racism. While I was writing one of the game's all-time great players to wish him luck, I was unaware that people of my own race were sending one of my heroes hateful letters, using their poisoned pens to espouse their backwoods views of life.

I got totally wrapped up in Aaron's chase for the milestone. Every morning before reading about the St. Louis Cardinals and checking the box score from their game, I looked in the newspaper to see if Aaron had closed the gap.

As he got closer to catching the Babe my excitement grew. Finally, on April 8th, 1974 in his second at bat of the game, Aaron took Los Angeles' Dodgers pitcher Al Downing deep and history was made.

I still remember watching the game on a small television in a guest bedroom at my grandmother's house. It was spring break, and I was visiting her for the week.

I still remember being the only male in the house that night and I came out of the bedroom jumping up and down with excitement.

My mom, aunt, cousin, sister and grandma didn't share my excitement. They were more concerned about getting back to their movie.

I didn't matter, I knew when my father joined us later in the week that we would have something to discuss, and I knew I had just watched something great.

Thirty years later as Barry Bonds gets within possible striking distance of catching Aaron, that April 8th night 30 years ago is still a special memory for this long-time baseball fan.

They say records are made to be broken, but when and if it happens, it will be as if a piece of my childhood disappears with Aaron's record.

(Doug Gorman is the sports editor of the Daily. He can be e-mailed at dgorman@news-daily.com)