The Journal Gazette
Wednesday, January 27, 2021 1:10 am

Memorial focuses on Aaron's impact

PAUL NEWBERRY | Associated Press

ATLANTA – Brian Snitker choked back tears as he remembered Hank Aaron's affection for those who didn't possess his unparalleled talent on the baseball field.

During his post-playing career running the Atlanta Braves farm system, the Hammer had a penchant for looking beyond the can't-miss prospects.

“He always wanted to move a player up, and he preferred that it wasn't the so-called bonus babies,” said Snitker, who has managed the Braves since 2016 and got his start in the dugout thanks to Aaron. “He wanted to get that grinder guy, the guy who was overachieving.”

Snitker was among those who spoke Tuesday at a memorial honoring Aaron, who died last week from natural causes at 86.

Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred, Hall of Famer Chipper Jones and former Braves outfielder Marquis Grissom were among those who spoke at the ceremony, which was held before a small, socially distanced crowd – including Aaron's widow, Billye, and other family members – on the concourse directly behind home plate at Truist Park.

The remarks were delivered in an exhibit known as Monument Garden, which prominently features a statue of Aaron delivering the swing that produced 755 homers.

Others sent videotaped tributes, including Baseball Hall of Famers John Smoltz and Tom Glavine, one-time Aaron teammate and current Houston Astros manager Dusty Baker, reigning National League MVP Freddie Freeman, and former Braves great Dale Murphy.

Aaron's No. 44 was painted in the dormant grass of center field. Braves Chairman Terry McGuirk noted the unseasonably warm January weather – the temperature climbed into the upper 60s – as a sign from above honoring one of the game's greatest icons.

Noting the 10 Baseball of Famers who have died in the past year, Manfred said Aaron “belongs on our sport's Mount Rushmore.”

Most of the remembrances focused on Aaron's humbleness and the impact he made after retiring as a player in 1976. Few spoke about him being the one who famously eclipsed Babe Ruth's home run record, or the unprecedented, two-decade run of sustained excellence that helped him establish several other marks that stand today.

Snitker remembered being a non-descript minor leaguer who got a shot at another calling when Aaron offered him his first managing job in 1982 with the Anderson Braves, a team in the Class A Sally League.

“The reason I'm here today is because of Hank Aaron,” Snitker said, pausing the maintain his composure.

Snitker toiled in minor league obscurity through most of his coaching and managing career before finally getting the call to become Braves skipper at age 60. Since then, he has guided the team to three straight NL East titles, earning NL Manager of the Year honors in 2018.

“I'll miss the times he used to stop by, come by my office and we could just sit and talk,” Snitker said. “I'll miss the friend and the mentor that I had in my life.”

A private funeral service for Aaron will be held today. He will be buried at historic South-View Cemetery, the city's oldest Black cemetery, where he will be interred alongside civil rights leaders such as John Lewis, Julian Bond and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

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