ATLANTA -- Brian Snitker had just experienced the biggest win of his managerial career to date. But in the aftermath of Friday's Game 3 of the World Series -- a game his Braves won, 2-0, to take a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven -- it was the pregame moment he had shared with Hank Aaron’s widow, Billye, that had Snitker emotional afterward.
“I got to hug Billye, you know,” Snitker said in his postgame press conference before taking a long pause, “and tell her how much I missed Hank.”
The great Aaron’s spirit pervades this World Series taking place in the year of his passing. His No. 44 is etched into the outfield grass at Truist Park, into the heart of his protégé, Dusty Baker, on the Astros’ side and, of course, the fans, coaches, players and employees on the Braves’ side.
So before the Series could continue with the first World Series game in Atlanta in 22 years and the first at Truist Park, it was only fitting that Hammerin’ Hank’s memory be properly honored.
Major League Baseball and the Braves prepared a two-minute, 30-second video tribute to Aaron that aired on the Truist Park scoreboard and on the FOX broadcast, followed by an on-field recognition of his widow and his children, Hank Jr., Gaile, Dorinda and Lary. Hank Jr. threw the ceremonial first pitch, with Freddie Freeman handling the catching duties.
“I wish he was here to be able to watch this,” Freeman said beforehand, “especially us playing the Brewers, too, in the [National League Division Series]. I got chills right now thinking about it.”
Aaron, who passed away Jan. 22 at the age of 86, was no isolated idol. Long after he hit his 755th and final home run in 1976, he remained a regal and benevolent presence around the Braves, in the Atlanta community and in the fight for civil rights. So his loss was deeply felt.
“That man loved every single one of us,” Freeman added. “Whoever came in contact with him, he made you feel love.”
For Baker, that love went back a long, long way. Aaron was Baker’s father figure when Baker was drafted by the Braves in 1967, with Aaron promising Baker’s mom that he would take care of the straight-out-of-high-school kid from Northern California as he ventured into the turbulence of the Deep South.
Long before Baker knew his opponent would be Aaron’s Braves, Baker had vowed to win the World Series this year in Aaron’s honor. As fate would have it, that Baker was able to make it to a Fall Classic is a direct reflection of Aaron’s impact on the sport.
“I’m looking forward to seeing [Aaron’s family] during the game,” Baker said beforehand, “and giving them the love and support that they've always given me.”
Aaron also had a major impact on Snitker’s life. Long before Snitker was the Braves’ big league skipper, he was a struggling Minor League catcher hired in 1981 by Aaron, then the team’s senior vice president, to be a coach.
“As much as who Hank was and what he meant to the game, I think about him as just a really, really good friend, first and foremost,” Snitker said prior to the game. “I can remember back when he would call me as a young manager, and the first thing he'd want is, ‘How's the family doing? Is there anything you need?’ When I'd see him in the offseason, we'd always part, and he's like, ‘You let me know if I can ever do anything for you.’”
Before Game 3, MLB and the Braves did something for the man who did so much for others. Henry Aaron might not be present at this World Series, but his imprint is all over it.