Playing Hooky with Hank Aaron
Updated: Jan 13, 2022
In fifth grade, my mother let me skip school! Good start already, right? She brought me to downtown Chicago to wait in a long line outside of a bookstore. The MLB had just released a gorgeous book called All Century Team, which had big
amazing photos and write ups on the best players to ever play the game of baseball. Among them was Hank Aaron and Willie Mays, who were both at the bookstore to sign the book. But here’s where the story starts… Both baseball legends, as well as the hundreds of people lined up down the block were given strict instructions that autographs were to only be signed on the first, blank, white page of the book. However… just as I would do today, I did it my way. I thumbed through the book and found the best photo of Willie and the best photo of Hank, and had them ready for their signatures. After a few hours of shuffling down the sidewalk and weaving through the bookstore maze, there I was; a ten year old baseball fanatic, face to face with Willie Mays. I opened up my book to a beautifully grainy photo of him in a Giants uniform, following through on a swing that I have to believe was a homer. I set the book down and Willie quickly said “No” and a body-guard standing over Willie’s shoulder reached out and flipped my book to page one (the blank, white, boring page), and Willie signed it. Rats. Another fifteen feet or so later, I found myself at the other end of the long banquet table, where Hank Aaron sat. I don't recall exactly how, but we greeted one another, and I reached out with the book opened to page 130 and set it in front of Hank. Page 130 is full, page-sized photo of ol’ Hank doing his thing (crushing the ball). The bodyguard fellow next to Hank says “Page one only!” and reaches out to grab my book, when Hank raises his hand, creating a barrier between the rule-enforcing bodyguard and my new favorite baseball book. “It’s okay.” Hank said, as he penned his autograph right there on page 130 for me.
I’d love to say that I never forgot that moment and I think of it’s impact on my life every day, but that would be a lie. Life is busy. Truthfully, I very rarely think of that moment, and spending the time writing this makes this is the longest I’ve ever spent thinking about it. I’m glad I did because there are more takeaways from that story than I consciously realized until now.
I usually only think about that day when someone mentions Hank Aaron, which is only so often. Today, I thought of it because Jason Hayward, of the Chicago Cubs, posted a tribute to Hank on his Instagram because on this day in history, in 1976, Hank Aaron hit his final home run, number 755, which, at the time, was the most in MLB history. So thanks, Jason, for the trip down memory lane. Thanks Mom, for making that memory possible. Just know that because that day meant so much to me, I will certainly pay that experience forward when my son has a chance to meet his favorite ball player on a school day. And last but not least, thanks to the late/great Hank Aaron, who, like me, will do things his way, and bend a meaningless rule for the right reasons.