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I Had a Hammer
The Hank Aaron Story
The day I left Mobile, Alabama, to play ball with the Indianapolis Clowns, Mama was so upset she couldn't come to the train station to see me off. She just made me a couple of sandwiches, stuffed two dollars in my pocket, and stood in the yard crying as I rode off with my daddy, my older brother and sister, and Ed Scott, a former Negro League player who managed me with the Mobile Black Bears and scouted me for the Clowns. When we got to the station, Mr. Scott handed me an envelope with the name Bunny Downs on it. Downs was the business manager of the Clowns, and when I arrived at their camp in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, I was to hand him the envelope unopened.
My knees were banging together when I got on that train. I'd never ridden in anything bigger than a bus or faster than my daddy's old pickup truck. As we pulled out of the station and Daddy and Sarah and Herbert Junior and Mr. Scott kept getting smaller and smaller, I never felt so alone in my life. I just sat there clutching my sandwiches, speaking to nobody, staring out the window at towns I'd never heard of. It was the first time in my life that I had been around white people. After a while, I got up the courage to walk up and down the aisle a few times. I wanted to see what a dining car looked like, and I needed somebody to tell me where I wasn't allowed to go. Then I sat back down, listened to those wheels carrying me farther away from home, and tried to talk myself out of getting off at the next stop and going back.
I've never stopped wondering if I did the right thing that day. I was barely eighteen at the time, araggedy kid who wore my sister's hand-me-down pants and had never been out of the black parts of Mobile. I didn't know anything about making a living or taking care of myself or about the white world I'd have to face sooner or later. I didn't know what I wanted to be doing when I was forty or any of the other things I needed to know to make a decision that would affect the rest of my life-except for one. I knew that I loved to play baseball. And I had a feeling that I might be pretty good at it.
I suppose that's reason enough for an eighteenyear-old boy to board a train and set off on his life's journey, and I suppose it's time I stopped secondguessing myself. But I'm not eighteen anymore, and two generations later I'm still living with a decision I made back when JFK was starting out as a senator. I live with the fact that I spent twenty-five of the best years of my life playing baseball. Don't get me wrong; I don't regret a day of it. I still love baseball-Lord knows, it's the greatest game in the world-and I treasure the experience. God, what an experience ...I Had a Hammer
The Hank Aaron Story. Copyright © by Hank Aaron. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.