On Thursday, August 2, 1973, my family and I were joined by 9,401 of our closest friends to watch the Atlanta Braves lose to the Cincinnati Reds, 17-2. The Reds scored four in the 3rd off Roric Harrison, then nine in the 4th to bust it open, with six coming off Jim Panther, in relief of Harrison. Hank Aaron failed to hit his 702nd career home run that night, but Johnny Bench homered for Cincinnati, and Bobby Tolan stole home. Don Gullett pitched a complete game 4-hitter, because, 1973.
I don’t remember any of that. After all, it was almost 40 years ago, and I was 9 years old at the time. But, you can look it up, and now more than ever.
What I do remember is this: my 7 year old brother’s only moments of pleasure were the “Beep-Beeps” played over the PA before at bats by the original Road Runner, Ralph Garr. My mom was disappointed when Johnny Bench came out of the game early. And as the runs piled up, my dad and uncle began to become less and less interested in Atlanta or Cincinnati, and more and more interested in Milwaukee or St. Louis. After the 7th or 8th, (it was also probably about that inning) someone decided that we should abandon the game and get some autographs.
A friendly usher pointed us to where we should wait, and after some time, a dark sedan came out of the tunnel and nosed free of the small crowd. It made a right turn before the exit, and headed into an empty piece of parking lot. Then it came to a stop, and most of the small crowd ran to it. We didn’t know exactly what was going on, but my 25 year old aunt decided we needed to get up there, so I ran with her. After waiting in a short line, I found myself face to face with Hank Aaron, who reached through the open window to sign my program with my aunt’s red felt tip pen.
I knew Hank Aaron was a big deal, and I was completely satisfied as we walked back to the tunnel’s opening. But, my aunt had the fever now, and we managed to get autographs also from Ralph Garr and Dusty Baker. The entire starting outfield was now signed, and a good night’s work concluded.
When I think about Hank Aaron now, I think about that night. I think about everything I know now about what he went through while he was approaching 715. I think about how close he was to the exit, with nothing standing in his way. I think about 17-2. And when I see “justhank,” I think: that’s damn right.
Today, the program sits in the top drawer of my nightstand. It’s lucky for me that the autographs were on the last page, because the cover is long gone. The scorecard has the record of one of my dice baseball games on it, because, teenager. And, no, you can’t have it.