My second Ryno Report over at Call to the Pen looks at baseball’s past through Hank Aaron and the future in Jason Heyward. The two Atlanta Braves shared this past week. Heyward made his big league debut and hit his first home run Monday. Hank Aaron threw out the first pitch one game during the series and also celebrated the 36th anniversary of his record breaking 715th home run Thursday. Aaron is impressed by Heyward and is excited about his potential to capture the black community’s attention this summer. Here’s a part of my story on the connection they share:
…Robinson, Mays, and Aaron also graced the fields of the Negro Leagues before becoming Major League Baseball legends. They each left lasting legacies on the game.
Aaron’s story is a special one in baseball lore. The moment on April 8 was just one of his many contributions to the game. Aaron was much more than the home run king.
He inspired a generation to pick up the bat and ball and head to the nearest park to enjoy a day of baseball. The young kids dreamed they were Gibson and Aaron battling it out in Fulton County Stadium.
Somewhere along the way, though, the sandlots became vacant and silent. The sound of chatter from the infield was replaced with cries for fouls on the playground macadam.
But Hank Aaron remained a powerful voice in the African American community. He made the rounds during the civil rights movement, trying to inspire a new generation to rise above racism. He was involved with the NAACP to make African Americans lives better. Then, Aaron, along with his wife, founded the Hank Aaron Chasing the Dream Foundation to help children develop their potential. His interest in the future is still alive and well in 2010.
The future of baseball is Jason Heyward. And Aaron is interested.
“You don’t know how excited I was, and not only me,” Aaron said. “I was talking to (civil rights pioneer and former Atlanta mayor) Andrew Young about the same thing, and he wants me to bring him out there to meet Heyward. It’s beginning to move through the black area. People are getting excited.”
Aaron, 76, says the buzz makes him feel good.
”He can certainly bring the excitement back, not only for Atlanta but also for African-American players,” Aaron said. “We do need to have many, many more Jason Heywards.”
He said Heyward can “mean an awful lot to what ails baseball.”
Perhaps even more exciting than Heyward’s potential to make a difference is the fact that he is already involved. Heyward is part of the Atlanta Braves program that goes into Atlanta’s inner-city middle and high schools to promote earning baseball scholarships to college. Slowly, Heyward is working to build a future for African Americans in baseball.