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Aaron: 'I have no interest in that'

ATLANTA -- If and when Barry Bonds breaks the all-time home
run record, Hank Aaron doesn't plan to be there.

It has nothing to do with his feelings about losing the record,
or any ill will toward Bonds. For Aaron, it's simply a matter of
convenience.

"If he's in San Francisco, I'm going to wake up at six o'clock
in the morning and go fly to San Francisco? No, I will not do
that," Aaron said Thursday, the 30th anniversary of his 715th home
run, the one that surpassed Babe Ruth. "I'm not interested in
flying six hours and watching a baseball game or watch him break
the record. I wish him all the luck in the world but I have no
interest in that."

The Atlanta Braves held a ceremony honoring Aaron before
Thursday night's game against the New York Mets, and Georgia Gov.
Sonny Perdue proclaimed it "Hank Aaron Appreciation Day"
throughout the state.

Several of Aaron's former teammates attended, and his wife,
Billye, sang the national anthem.

Even Al Downing came. He was the pitcher from the Los Angeles
Dodgers who threw the ball Aaron hit over the wall in left field
for the record-breaking homer.

"It's entirely appropriate for the Braves on this day to
recognize Hank and his achievement," said Bill Bartholomay,
chairman emeritus of the Braves. "He's Mr. Brave in every respect,
and, in my opinion, the greatest player in the history of the
game."

Bonds had 659 homers heading into the Giants' game Thursday
night against San Diego, one behind his godfather, Willie Mays, for
third place on the career list.

Once he passes Mays -- a mere formality, at this point -- Bonds
will have only the Babe between himself and Aaron.

"I just believe that if Barry Bonds stays on the same course,
he probably will break the record," said Aaron, who holds a mostly
ceremonial position as senior vice president and assistant to the
president with the Braves.

He completed his 24-year career with 755 homers, including 733
with the Braves, and joined the team's front office when he
retired.

At first, Aaron was director of player development, a position
he chose for himself in discussions with then-owner Ted Turner. He
thoroughly enjoyed spending time helping several players make their
way to the big leagues.

"Ted came to me and said, 'What would you like to do?' I said
I'd like to work with young people in the organization," Aaron
said. "Most of the kids we had come up through the minor league
system, those same kids brought championships to this city."

Aaron singled out players such as David Justice, Ron Gant and
Jeff Blauser, and he also provided tutoring to Dale Murphy, one of
five former Braves players to have his number retired by the team.

"I got everything I wanted out of it," Aaron said of his time
spent in that role.

That wasn't the case for his chase of Ruth's record. The turmoil
he faced during that time has been well documented -- hateful
letters and death threats from people who didn't want to see a
black man surpass a towering figure such as Ruth.

For about 18 months, Aaron wasn't allowed to open his own mail.
The FBI and his personal secretary took care of that.

"I guess I feel some resentment," Aaron said. "I thought it
should have been probably the greatest time of my life, especially
in baseball. But yet it was a time I couldn't wait for it to be
over."

The weather on the night he hit No. 715 was a bit chilly. With
the Braves trailing 3-1 in the fourth inning, he hit a 1-0 fastball
from Downing to left, and he worried that he didn't get enough of
it.

But the ball cleared the wall -- just barely -- and landed in the
waiting glove of Atlanta reliever Tom House.

"I know that was the highlight of my baseball career," House
said earlier this week from Japan, where he was working as a
pitching consultant. "I know that's a bad statement for a pitcher
to make. But I got to play a very small part in a very historic
moment."

House quickly left the bullpen and raced toward home plate,
nearly beating Aaron there. As teammates and family members mobbed
Aaron, House arrived with the ball.

"The thing that sticks out in my mind, even to this day, is
when I got to home plate to give him the ball, Henry was hugging
his mother and there was a tear on his cheek," House said. "I had
never seen any emotion from him like that. It showed me that he was
just like all of us.

"He loved the game, he loved his family. It all came together
that night."