As the Atlanta Braves opened their home season, it was a time to remember the night 40 years ago when Henry Aaron landed a ball just beyond the fence at Atlanta Stadium to pass Babe Ruth as the all-time home-run leader.
It was a big deal.
I have heard the call of play-by-play announcer Milo Hamilton so many times I can almost repeat it.
“Here’s the pitch by Downing. Swinging. There’s a drive into left-center field. That ball is going to be ... out of here! It’s gone! It’s 715! There’s a new home run champion of all time! And it’s Henry Aaron!” Hamilton said into the radio microphone.
I remember the excitement of just a few years before when the building of the stadium began. I didn’t know much about baseball, but I knew it was going to change everything. This was big.
The dad of one of my buddies was a businessman downtown and was asked to drive one of the convertibles that brought the Braves down Peachtree Street for a parade to welcome the new team. We ended up in the front seat. Sitting on the back was Rico Carty, who played left field. I can still remember he wore No. 43. Aaron was No. 44.
There was a young catcher named Joe Torre, who later managed the Yankees during their heyday.
It was a great parade with marching bands and all the excitement you could stand.
A couple of years later, I remember going to the stadium for “Hank Aaron Night” when they honored him for his 500th home run. They gave him a brand-new Chevrolet convertible, which I think came from Timmer’s Chevrolet, right across from the stadium on Whitehall Street.
A lot of people don’t remember, but at the start of that 1966 season, Hamilton shared the broadcast booth with two others, former Brave Ernie Johnson and a guy who did minor league baseball in Nashville. His name was Larry Munson.
Early in the season, Ed Thilenius, whose namesake son now lives in Gainesville, announced he was leaving the play-by-play job with the Georgia Bulldogs to become an announcer for the new Atlanta Falcons.
Munson expressed his interest in the Georgia job and that fall began a storied career behind the mic for the Bulldogs.
We’ve lived through ups and downs with the Braves. When I was in the media, we used to call the Braves PR office for tickets. The old joke was we asked for two and they offered us four.
Years later, Bimbo Brewer and I did our radio show from underneath an old cottonwood tree outside the stadium. It was opening night of the World Series in Atlanta. We didn’t have tickets to the game, but we came down, talked about the excitement and went home and watched it on TV.
It’s still early enough in the season that fans are wondering if this could be the year the Braves might make it to the series.
While they’ve given Atlanta just one World Series crown, they’ve given us a boatload of memories. None of those will ever compare to the night that Aaron fired a shot that broke a record and swelled us with pride.
Harris Blackwood is a Gainesville resident whose columns appear on the Sunday Life page and on gainesvilletimes.com/harris.