Hank Aaron visited the Braves' spring training camp today, and Dave O'Brien and Charles Odum of the AP took down a number of his quotes. He had a lot to say about the low number of African-Americans in baseball. (By my count, and I apologize for the implicit tokenization, Joe Thurston is the only other African-American player in camp. Obviously, there are also Latino and Caribbean players of color, not to mention our Asian pitchers, on the roster and in camp.) Aaron said he was glad to see Heyward in camp, but that "it dampens my spirit when I come up to spring training and I look at the kids – I’m not talking about tomorrow, I’m talking about right now – and don’t see any black kids."
I envy Heyward the chance to meet Hank Aaron -- the greatest right fielder in baseball history -- but what Hank's saying isn't new. And, as Hank points out, it's about economics. In this country, football and basketball are the major scholarship sports, so unless you come from a well-heeled background (as indeed Jason Heyward does, the son of Dartmouth grads), those two sports are your best ticket to college and ultimately the pros. In Latin America, the economic incentive is entirely in baseball's favor: in towns like San Pedro de Macoris, D.R., the biggest money on the landscape comes from the scouts with American checkbooks handing out millions of dollars in signing bonuses. There are no other jobs, no other industries, and certainly no other sports that can compete with that.
Otherwise, he had many nice things to say, praising Tommy Hanson ("a bubbling superstar in their pitching") and Jair Jurrjens, Jason Heyward ("I think he’s going to do well") and Bobby Cox ("Bobby’s just been wonderful, not only to this organization and the city of Atlanta, he’s been good for baseball").
Ultimately, there wasn't a ton of red meat in the interview -- no scoops, bombshells, or other surprises -- but it’s just nice to hear the man talk. He still passionately loves baseball and the Braves, and carries himself with dignity, grace, and humility. He was my first hero. He still is.