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Bonds' chase brings back first-hand memories

It's going to happen. Barring some unforeseen circumstance, Barry Bonds is going to break Hank Aaron's all-time major league homerun record. Aaron hit his last homer on July 20, 1976, number 755, for a record that we thought might stand forever. Less than 31 years later Bonds is bearing down on that mark with the deficit about to be cut to single digits.

This is a record that I would like to see not broken, at least in my lifetime. I feel this way not because the man of destiny is a guy like Barry Bonds with all of his baggage. I would feel this way even if it were one of the Atlanta Braves' Jones boys. I want the record to stand not because I have strong feelings against Bonds or for Aaron. For purely selfish reasons, I don't want to see this record broken.

You see, I was there on April 8, 1974 when Hank Aaron popped homerun number 715 over the left-center field fence in the old Atlanta Stadium. This was the homerun that broke the then existing record held by Babe Ruth.

I was in the 10th grade, and my dad, my uncle and I raced to Atlanta with three tickets for the game that was actually scheduled for the next Monday night. My dad fought his way into the main offices of the Braves and pulled a magic act. He convinced them they had mailed him tickets to the wrong game and an exchange must be made. Probably just to get rid of him, they made the swap.

Once inside the stadium, we found ourselves with seats among a lot of dignitaries about five rows behind home plate. Can you believe the luck? We were packed in with about 53,000 others who, if you counted the next day in offices and factories around Georgia, were probably about 553,000 strong.

When Aaron hit the long awaited shot in the fourth inning off the Dodgers' Al Downing, history had been made. The ushers started passing out certificates of attendance to verify that we were indeed witnesses to this great moment in sports. Either they had too many documents, or some people were shortchanged. My greatest memory of the night was of all of the big shots in the crowd grabbing these certificates by the handful.

I've never much talked about the fact that I saw this historic event live and in person. Invariably somebody would want you to prove that you were there. I held on to my certificate and ticket stub for years, but as time went by and I moved around, that memorabilia is no longer to be found. I last saw them in a little tin box tucked inside of a larger cardboard box full of game programs and magazines.

If you have doubts about this story, that's fine. I know if I'm nothing else, I am blatantly honest. You'll just have to take my word for it. And once you convince yourself that I must be telling the truth, you can try this one on for size. I was also in Atlanta Stadium on July 21, 1973, when Aaron became only the second man in baseball history to hit 700 career homeruns. He pulled off this feat against the Phillies' Ken Brett in a game the Braves lost.

My father was a huge baseball fan, and some of the most fun moments of my life were spent watching the Braves in that old donut of a ballpark. Most years the Braves were not a very good team; so, we just went for the camaraderie and to watch Aaron's chase.

Those are days that I will never forget, and even when Bonds surpasses Aaron's record, I doubt if anybody there will cherish the moment like I did with my dad when I was just a pimply-faced teenager. Those days are about to be relegated to second place in the record books, but for this old boy they will always remain on top in spite of Barry Bonds.

Realizing this column may be more appropriate for Father's Day than Mother's Day, maybe I'll pull a switcheroo and bring out some mom memories in June. By then Barry Bonds may well be the homerun king, and the last thing I will want to talk about will be baseball. If he were still here, that news would discourage even my daddy. I do wish though, that I could hear what he would have to say about it.

Web posted on Thursday, May 10, 2007

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