Terry Harper had just gotten into his car, and turned on the radio to a local sports talk station.
As the station was going into a commercial break, it mentioned the passing of a former Atlanta Braves players.
Harper thought the station was rehashing the news of former player Phil Niekro’s death and the passing of former announcer Don Sutton.
When the station came back on the air, Harper heard the unthinkable news that legendary Braves slugger Henry Aaron had died early Friday morning.
The former home run king was 86.
“When I heard the news, it was like a family member had died,” Harper said. “It’s a sad day.”
Harper, a former Douglas County High standout who played seven of his nine Major League seasons in the 1980s with the Atlanta Braves, got to know the Hall of Famer on a personal level.
“I was so young when I joined the Braves, and Hank would give me rides back to my apartment,” Harper said. “We talked about baseball and hitting. He didn’t get too technical, he just taught me some things to look for. He taught me about growing up and being a man.”
Nicknamed “Hammerin’ Hank,” Aaron hit 755 home runs over the span of a 23-year playing career in the major leagues, a record-setting milestone that he held for more than three decades.
Former Alexander High standout Matt Capps met Aaron when he was a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates squad when they played the Braves at old Turner Field in 2007.
He remembered a man that was “larger than life” as a group talked with Aaron.
“I don’t remember what we were talking about, I just remember being in awe of him,” Capps said. “Everything that I had read about him being humble and nice was true. We all know what he did on the field, but it was the personal side of Aaron that stood out.”
Congressman David Scott, who represents Douglas County in Washington, D.C, is married to Aaron’s sister, Alfredia.
“All of our hearts are broken at the passing of our loved one, Hank Aaron,” Scott said in a statement. “My wife, Alfredia, Hank Aaron’s sister, and I, and our entire family are deeply saddened at his passing. But we know that the Lord said to all of us, ‘Let your light shine so that the whole world may see your great works.’ And Hank Aaron did just that. And not just the 755 home run record for Major League Baseball, but also as a father, a son, a brother, a husband, a great friend to so many people, and a shining light for Atlanta, our nation, and the world. Our entire family wants to thank all of those who have reached out and have given comfort to us.”
Born in Mobile, Ala., in 1934, Aaron played in the Negro Leagues before signing with the then Milwaukee Braves in 1952.
He helped Milwaukee to a World Series victory in 1957 before moving to Atlanta when the Braves were purchased in 1966.
In 1974, amid death threats and racist attacks, Aaron belted his 715th home run to at old Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium to tie Babe Ruth’s record.
Acknowledgements begin pouring in about Aaron soon after news of his death was confirmed.
“There was a certain spirit, even a reverence, when in Hank Aaron’s presence that you could feel,” former Braves outfielder Dale Murphy said. “Grace, strength, integrity. We were blessed to have known him.”
National sports columnist Terence Moore often wrote about Aaron and they later became close friends.
Moore said Aaron had a way of making people feel good while in his presence.
“The one thing that stood out about Hank was how human he was,” Moore said. “He was so sincere. He was as real of a person as there was. He had an infectious laugh that could brighten your day. The way he chuckled at you. If you didn’t know him, you wouldn’t know he hit 755 home runs. The most often thing that you hear about him is that he was down-to-earth like a guy next door.”