Hank Aaron, two fans reunite
ATLANTA -- The moment is still frozen in time: Hank Aaron rounding the bases after hitting his record 715th home run when, suddenly, two young fans ran up from behind to pat him on the shoulder.
On Friday, Aaron got a rare chance to reminisce with those who briefly shared his moment on glory on April 8, 1974.
"It's wonderful to see them," Aaron said before the Atlanta Braves opened a series against the Florida Marlins. "I often get asked, 'Whatever happened to those two guys?' It's nice to see them once again and know they're doing fine, doing well."
Britt Gaston and Cliff Courtenay were only 17 when Aaron broke Babe Ruth's career home run record at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, now the site of a parking lot across the street from Turner Field.
Jumping onto the field along the first-base line, the teens caught up with a startled Aaron as he rounded second base, each giving him a quick pat before they peeled off and tried to make their getaway down the third-base line. They didn't get far -- Courtenay was caught by officers before he even got over the railing, while Gaston got about 10 rows up when he realized there was no escape.
"They were at each end of the aisle, in force," Gaston recalled. "I just put my hands up and said, 'OK, let's go.'"
They were bailed out of jail at about 3:30 a.m. by Gaston's father, and the charges were dropped when they appeared in court the next morning.
Aaron said he's glad they didn't get in too much trouble. This was the first time he had seen the two since 1994, when they reunited for the 20th anniversary of the landmark homer.
"The older you get, the more you think about it," Aaron said. "I'm just glad things worked out the way they did. It could have been a lot worse. They were having fun with it as kids. They didn't get beat up and all that. I think they spent two or three hours in jail. Other than that, it was a happy moment."
Aaron finished his career with 755 homers, a record since broken by Barry Bonds. Of course, many fans still consider Hammerin' Hank the legitimate home run king, given that Bonds and plenty of others from his era have been accused of using performance-enhancing drugs to bolster their numbers.
Just this week, six-time Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens was indicted on charges he lied to Congress when he vehemently denied using anything illegal.
"I've tried to stay out of all that," Aaron said. "Let the law fall wherever it may. I just tried to play the game the way it was supposed to be played."
These days, Courtenay is an optometrist in the south Georgia town of Valdosta, while Gaston works in the real estate business in Charleston, S.C. After some initial second thoughts about what they had done, they now realize it's just a fondly remembered sidelight from one of baseball's most historic nights.
"It was more a celebration of the moment. That was such a big deal. It was nothing malicious at all," Courtenay said. "Fortunately, Hank saw it that way, too."
Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press