Braves legend Aaron visits Baker, Reds clubhouse
ATLANTA -- For Reds manager Dusty Baker, a trip to Atlanta just wouldn't be the same without getting to see legendary Hank Aaron.
On Friday afternoon, Aaron, the Braves' senior vice president, came to the Reds' clubhouse to visit Baker. Their relationship dates back to 1968 and runs much deeper than simply teammates.
Baker signed with the Braves as a 19-year-old and played the first eight years of his career in Atlanta, leaning on Aaron as a father figure.
"I signed because he promised my mom he would take care of me as if I was his son," Baker recalled. "He helped me make up my mind. It was great just being around him, hanging around him. He was like my dad away from home.
"My best memories were times just being in the South and being with Hank. [We'd] go see Andrew Young, Maynard Jackson, Jesse Jackson, whoever else Hank sort of attracted at that time. I was very, very fortunate to be there and him letting me hang around."
Baker also recalled the fourth inning on April 8, 1974, when Aaron hit career home run No. 715 to become the all-time home run king. He was on deck when it happened. ("I really was no protection [for Aaron]," Baker said, with a laugh).
"I remember was that it was cold, very cold. The stands were packed and Hank told me in the on-deck circle that he was going to get it over with, right now. I didn't doubt him," Baker said. "He hit it over the fence as he said he was going to do. Then I remember they stopped the game and his mom and dad and family, the kids and everybody came down, including [daughter] Gaile ... . Then we resumed play.
"I turned around and I heard a bunch of clanking in the stands and everybody was going home. I was like, 'Wait a minute, I'm about to hit.' But it didn't really matter. It was great just to be there."
Having Aaron in the clubhouse was great for current Reds Jay Bruce and Joey Votto, both of whom stopped in to talk.
"He doesn't talk about hitting much, but he was really open to talking with those guys," said Baker.
Bruce and Votto were honored to have audience with Aaron, and the two hung on his every word.
"Because I'm a fan of the history of baseball, it was an honor to spend some time with Hank Aaron, to ask him baseball and hitting questions, to hear his responses and to just basically shut my mouth and listen to his wisdom," said Votto. "Part of it was very simple, but typically, success usually is pretty simple."
"I just let him talk," said Bruce, who had met Aaron at the 2010 Civil Rights Game, played in Cincinnati. "I asked him a little bit about his approach and stuff like that, but didn't get into too much of specifics. It was some information that is pretty cool to hear from someone as great as Hank Aaron. It was an experience I won't forget."