Aaron's hometown gives Hall of Fame-style honor

MOBILE, Ala. (AP) — Hank Aaron gathered with a handful of fellow Hall of Famers on his front porch and grabbed a seat next to commissioner Bud Selig.

It was anything but the typical homecoming. Aaron, the former homer king, received a Hall of Fame-style tribute when his boyhood home-turned-museum was officially dedicated Wednesday in his hometown.

The seven-room, white clapboard home was moved to Hank Aaron Stadium, where the Double-A Mobile BayBears play. It's the first time a Hall of Famer has had his childhood home relocated to a stadium, said BayBears president Bill Shanahan, who came up with the idea two years ago.

"I don't know how to begin to thank all of you for taking time from your busy schedule to share with my family and me is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, honors of my life," the 76-year-old Aaron said. "How could I have dreamed that this day would come to pass?

"All of this is beyond my wildest imagination, that this little home that I helped my Daddy build one day would be relocated to a stadium that was named in my honor."

The baseball luminaries attending included Willie Mays, Reggie Jackson, Bob Feller, Bruce Sutter, Rickey Henderson and fellow Mobile native Ozzie Smith. It was an assemblage of talent that wasn't lost on Aaron, who asked them all to stand.

"This is truly a great moment," he said.

Owner of the BayBears' parent organization, the Arizona Diamondbacks, Ken Kendrick and other team executives were on hand. So were dozens of Aaron's family members and friends, some of whom bused over from Atlanta.

"It is magnificent," Mays said in a pre-game tribute. "He's a friend of mine for a very long time. Thank you very much for being who you are."

Aaron toured the museum with some of his children and grandchildren and siblings Alfredia Aaron-Scott and James Aaron before the dedication, then was honored again before first pitch. Each room contains memorabilia from his family or career.

"It's all been an emotional roller coaster for both of us and particularly for him," said Aaron's wife, Billye, afterward. "It's not something he thought about or expected. It's just something that came out of the blue some time ago. We're so indebted to the Mobile community, particularly Bill Shanahan.

"He's still floating around in disbelief, I think. It's been quite an experience and as you can imagine quite an emotional one."

Indeed, one of baseball's most honored players, someone who's dined with sitting presidents, appreciated the occasion.

"I thought it was wonderful," he said between spoonfuls from a cup of vanilla ice cream. "I was hoping that it would become not a dream but something that was going to become reality, and it did. The BayBears have done a wonderful thing. That all meant a lot to me.

"It was special because it had never been done before so I felt quite proud."

The consensus among the baseball figures who traveled to Alabama's port city for the event was that it wasn't because of Aaron's 755 home runs or record 2,297 RBIs.

It was because of the man.

"He had an incredible career on the field," said Selig, a friend since Aaron's days with the Milwaukee Braves in the 1970s. "But he's handled himself off the field with such grace and dignity so when you combine those two, it's remarkable. There are very few athletes you can mention their name and that's all you have to say. All you have to say anywhere is Henry Aaron, and boy that is a show-stopper — for all the right reasons. Because of the kind of person he is and his career on and off the field."

Added Smith: "I think this is more of a tribute to Hank the man than it is to Hank the baseball player."

Jackson said Aaron would be in the "last two or three sentences" of any discussion of baseball's greatest ever. He reserved his highest praise for Aaron personally, though.

"He's the best. He's a good Christian man that I admire," Jackson said. "Oh by the way, he was a great baseball player. It was important today but it was not the most important thing. He starred in the other parts of life. Even though he's one of the greatest players who ever lived, I think he's a better guy, a better person, a better husband, than he was a player. So what does that say?"