I grew up in Alabama but not on the Gulf Coast. So, as a kid, I had heard of Mobile, but I didn’t know much more about it than say, Savannah or Chicago or Boston.
I didn’t know what Mardi Gras was much less that it had roots in Mobile. I didn’t know the phrase “damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead” and if I had, I wouldn’t have said it in front of my momma.
Here’s what I did know about Mobile.
From reading the Birmingham News, I knew about the Senior Bowl.
From listening to my second-grade teacher, I knew Mobile had a port where big ships would come and go with all sorts of goods.
And from watching Ernie Johnson Sr. and Pete Van Wieren on the Superstation TBS, I knew about Hank Aaron and his hometown in my home state. I remember having a great sense of pride about that from a very young age.
In this year of COVID-19, there is not much Mardi Gras to speak of.
But the Senior Bowl is very much underway. That’s a good and almost miraculous thing.
Unfortunately, the great Hammering Hank is also very much in the news after passing away last week at the age of 86.
Jim Nagy and the folks at the Reese’s Senior Bowl immediately came up with an appropriate way to honor Aaron. The helmet of every Senior Bowl player this week includes a “44” sticker in honor of Aaron. The color and font make it unmistakably Aaron’s number. That’s a cool and fitting gesture.
But I wonder if our city should be doing more to trumpet our pride in being home to such a talented and important person in American history.
When baseball was being integrated, Jackie Robinson was chosen as the person to step into the spotlight as much for his temperament and class as his athletic ability. It was clear Robinson was going to face some nasty situations involving people who didn’t want to see the game and the country progress. If he had taken the bait and been confrontational, it would have set back the progress being made with his signing.
There was no opportunity to select the person who would break the sacred home run record held for decades by the legendary Babe Ruth. Aaron’s talent took care of that decision.
But like Robinson before him, Aaron was the perfect person to take on the situation with grace and class.
When Aaron broke the record early in the 1974 season, he said he was more relieved than jubilant.
As he rounded the bases after blasting the record-breaking 715th home run, two teenage boys from the South Georgia town of Waycross rushed onto the field.
With so many death threats directed against Aaron, it was a tense moment. But the teenagers meant no harm and just wanted to congratulate the new home run king.
The boys were taken to jail and might have been there for a long time if not for a call from Aaron asking the police to release them.
One of those teenagers, Cliff Courtenay, went on to become my eye doctor. He was reluctant to talk about that day except to say Aaron was one of the classiest men he ever met. Without an assist from Aaron, who knows how that night might have changed his life for the worse.
Mobile already has a baseball stadium and a loop named for Aaron. We don’t owe him or his memory more statues or buildings.
But we should want to do more. There’s nothing wrong with sticking our collective chests out with pride when we have someone so special to brag about.
There has been talk of the Braves changing their name to the Atlanta Hammers. I like that idea.
But Mobile shouldn’t be upstaged. Let’s make sure the world never forgets Mobile is the kind of place that produces great people like Hank Aaron.
When Aaron was asked about breaking Ruth’s record, he had a quote that will live forever. He said, “I don’t want them to forget Babe Ruth. I just want them to remember me.”
Especially in his hometown, let’s make sure we do all we can to make sure his wish is honored to the fullest.
Randy Kennedy, who has been a leading voice on the Gulf Coast sports scene for 18 years, writes a weekly column for Lagniappe. His sports talk show airs weekdays from 2-6 p.m. on Sports Talk 99.5 and the free iHeart app.
This page is available to our subscribers. Join us right now to get the latest local news from local reporters for local readers.
The best deal is found by clicking here. Click here right now to find out more. Check it out.
Already a member of the Lagniappe family? Sign in by clicking here