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'Inspirational' Sager beloved across MLB

Reporter covered Aaron's 715th HR, was longtime Cubs fan
MLB.com @mlbbowman

ATLANTA -- Long before he became recognized for wearing the eccentric, colorful sports coats that personified his zest for life, Craig Sager somewhat anonymously introduced himself to the sports world as the fearless young reporter who was standing at home plate as Hank Aaron completed the trot that followed his historic 715th home run.

Aaron might have been startled by their first meeting, but the interactions that were enjoyed over the decades that followed led him to share in the widespread sadness felt Thursday when Sager died at 65 years old after a courageous battle with acute myeloid leukemia.

ATLANTA -- Long before he became recognized for wearing the eccentric, colorful sports coats that personified his zest for life, Craig Sager somewhat anonymously introduced himself to the sports world as the fearless young reporter who was standing at home plate as Hank Aaron completed the trot that followed his historic 715th home run.

Aaron might have been startled by their first meeting, but the interactions that were enjoyed over the decades that followed led him to share in the widespread sadness felt Thursday when Sager died at 65 years old after a courageous battle with acute myeloid leukemia.

Hail blazer: RIP to TNT's Craig Sager

"Craig [Sager] was there when I crossed the plate for #715 & has been a friend ever since," Aaron tweeted. "I thought the world of him & he will be sorely missed."

Tweet from @HenryLouisAaron: Craig Sagar was there when I crossed the plate for #715 & has been a friend ever since.I thought the world of him & he will be sorely missed

Though Sager was best known as Turner Sports' NBA sideline reporter with a unique wardrobe and a personality that allowed him to easily endear himself to Michael Jordan, LeBron James and many of basketball's legendary players, Sager had a genuine passion for baseball and his beloved Cubs, who won the World Series as he proudly watched from the hospital bed he occupied the past few months.

Tweet from @ARizzo44: We lost a Legend way too soon. My condolences to the family of Craig Sager. pic.twitter.com/SfVo5o3A0s

"Seeing him make himself famous as an NBA sideline reporter was counterintuitive to the person I knew," Royals vice president of communications and broadcasting Mike Swanson said. "His love for baseball is what put him on the field when Hank Aaron hit his 715th home run. He didn't care that he wasn't supposed to be on the field. He knew that's the place he needed to be."

Video: LAD@CHC: Sager discusses throwing first pitch

Swanson was a young employee in the Royals' organization in the 1970s when Sager served as one of the team's Spring Training broadcasters, and they became roommates when Sager got a job as a sports anchor at a Kansas City television station.

Over the years, Swanson gained a genuine appreciation for Sager's blindness to whatever most people might see as a barrier. This approach allowed them to skip to the front of long lines at clubs during their younger days and also provided Swanson field access during the 1982 World Series, during a brief stint when he wasn't employed in the baseball world.

"He was always saying, 'Why not?'" a heartbroken Swanson remembered. "That's what got him on the field when Hank hit that home run, and I was sure this was what was going to allow him to kick this [cancer] in the [rear]. It's just the kind of life he lived."

Tweet from @Swanee54: Below is my FB post, affording me a few more letters. The other photo perfectly displays Craig's "why not?" approach to life. Never took no! pic.twitter.com/UKKu6xucFQ

Sager became a fixture in Atlanta when he became one of CNN's early hires in 1981. He was never around the Braves on a daily basis, but when Turner Sports signed a rights deal with Major League Baseball in 2007, he savored the opportunities to be back in the baseball world.

Tweet from @Johnny_Bench5: One of the nicest reporters I met. Sports needs more people with class like Craig Sager. Thoughts & prayers with his family. #dresstoimpress

Whether talking to Hall of Fame manager Bobby Cox in Spring Training or interviewing the game's top stars during Turner's postseason coverage, Sager seemed quite comfortable at a baseball stadium.

"Basketball was what he majored in late in life, but he was a true sports guy," former Braves third baseman Chipper Jones said. "He loved baseball, pro football, college football and hockey. I always enjoyed the conversations we shared. He was always concerned about your health and well being. This is a sad day."

Tweet from @RealCJ10: Condolences to the entire Sager family! He was quite simply, the most colorful of characters. Rest In Peace buddy!

Earlier this year, as Jones finished a round of golf near the Braves' Spring Training complex and was making his way toward his car, he was flagged down by Sager -- who at the time was preparing to make a courageous and inspirational comeback to spend a latter part of the NBA season doing what he did best.

"He came chasing after me, which was encouraging to see because I knew how sick he had been," Jones said. "I know what he meant to everybody in the NBA and throughout the sports world. He was so colorful. You tuned in a lot of times just to see what kind of heinous blazer he was wearing, and if San Antonio was playing, you definitely watched to see his interview with Pop [Spurs coach Gregg Popovich]."

Video: LAD@CHC: Sager sings during the 7th-inning stretch

After working this year's MLB All-Star Game in San Diego, Swanson and his family traveled to Los Angeles for the ESPYs to see Sager honored with the Jimmy V Perseverance Award. The two former roommates spoke again near the latter portion of this year's World Series, and in the process, that "why not?" approach still seemed to burn bright for a man battling against tough odds.

"It was always fun to see him walk in the conventional, straightlaced baseball locker rooms wearing his different suit ensembles," Braves broadcaster Chip Caray said. "He was a terrific guy, a great family man and the face of Turner Sports. His courageous fight was very inspirational to a lot of people."

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Atlanta Braves