On Friday night, prior to the Braves taking on the Florida Marlins at Turner Field, steroid-free home run king Hank Aaron will welcome some very special guests into his office.
Let’s hope they stay in their seats this time.
Aaron is scheduled to greet Cliff Courtenay and Britt Gaston, the two rascally Waycross teenagers who memorably lept onto the field at Atlanta Fulton County Stadium on April 8, 1974 as Aaron hit No. 715 to become baseball’s new home run king.
Braves reps tell Intel that the life-long friends recently contacted Aaron’s office and asked if they could meet with him before seeing a game at Turner Field.
Apparently, Aaron has forgiven the jokesters. He said yes. Following a private meeting, the trio will hold a brief press conference together.
Braves fans will recall Courtenay and Gaston made for the field as Aaron put the ball over that credit card sign in the outfield and met him as he was rounding third. The shaggy haired pair then sprinted with Hammering Hank until he got to third.
The pranksters then made for the stands but were quickly apprehended by Atlanta police, charged with disorderly conduct and cooled their heels in lock up. For three hours.
What the seventeen year old future ESPN Classic mainstays probably didn’t realize?
They were thisclose to getting shot.
Off-duty Atlanta cop Cal Wardlow had been assigned to Aaron’s security team after racists, upset about Aaron topping Babe Ruth’s record, threatened to shoot him before he ever touched home plate.
The Braves organization took the death threats seriously.
In Tom Stanton‘s fascinating book, “Hank Aaron and the Home Run That Changed America,” he describes Wardlow’s reaction when he saw the two kids dash on the field toward Aaron: “Wardlow grabbed his binoculars case and slid his hand inside and around the grip of the gun. A thousand questions flitted through his mind. Should he show his revolver? Should he charge onto the field? Did the young men present a danger? Should he risk spoiling the moment? What if he were to shoot and accidentally strike Aaron? Wardlow paused. The young men slapped Aaron’s back and congratulated them. Wardlow sighed. They meant Aaron no harm.”
For the record, the prank-pulling pair turned out OK. Courtenay is a successful optometrist in Valdosta and Gaston is a University of Georgia grad who never misses a fall Saturday afternoon in Sanford Stadium.
Presumably from his seat.