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THE DAY AFTER

[August 8th] -- So there was a long drive into the night and now there is a new home run champion.

For those of you who don't read Nats' blogs on the weekend, here is what I wrote on Sunday regarding Barry Bonds and his then impending record breaker:


So it's 755, is it?

Rats.

Moreover, the Giants announced that Bonds will not play today in the team's last road game before returning home to face:

You guessed it.

As things stand now, it's going to take some mighty fine pitching to keep one of the Nationals' pitchers from becoming this era's version of Al Downing. I didn't want Barry Bonds to beat Henry Aaron's record, partially because of the whole steroids thing, but mostly because he is a jerk who is almost impossible to like. And he did it in an era that didn't root against him.

I wanted Hank Aaron to break Babe Ruth's record. Babe Ruth died nine years before I was born. He was nothing more than a statistic to me, a guy I would never have recognized in a color photograph. Aaron, however, was my contemporary. By the time I was old enough to understand and appreciate baseball, Aaron was still a fairly young outfielder for the Milwaukee Brewers. He was a good player, but was dwarfed by his major market rivals, Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays. No one ever talked about Aaron; it was always the grace of Mays or the power of Mantle that made the headlines of the nation's countless newspapers.

At times, Aaron responded to the constant slights. "The only difference between me and Willie Mays" he once said, "is that my cap fits better." We were always watching highlights of Mays chasing down fly balls as his cap flew off his head, making him seem faster than he already was. What we didn't know - and Aaron did - was that Mays wore a cap that was too big for his head, allowing it to fly off as he ran, adding to his already mystical quality.

Henry Aaron didn't much care about that type of publicity. He toiled in relative obscurity, first in Milwaukee, then Atlanta, and never had one of those "monster" seasons that Mays and Mantle were famous for. No, Henry Aaron was consistent.

The real reason I wanted Aaron to break Ruth's record? Because he was African-American (Black was the proper term of the day). By rooting for a Black man, I figured that by openly supporting Aaron, my friends in school would realize that I was a member of the next generation, a guy who didn't see skin color. Some applauded me, some called me names. The point is, it was easy to root for Aaron in a time that was still colored by racism. Today, it should be even easier to root for Bonds, but I cannot, and will not. He's too caustic and too angry. He seems to carry the anger that Aaron should have, but never did.

Henry Aaron lived in a time and in a city where he was hated because of the color of the skin. Barry Bonds? Well, he's just plain hated.

Where will you be when Bonds hits number 756? Hopefully, not in front of the TV watching the Nationals play the Giants. Wherever you are, though, you'll remember it. Time will stand still in your recollection of the day. I was camping near Beaufort South Carolina that night that Aaron broke the record. I was listening to the game on my little transistor radio when the batteries died - I thought I was going to miss history in a KOA campground in the middle of nowhere. Then, I heard something. The game, The Game, was permeating the canvas walls of my tent. I stepped outside to hear the game's signal wafting from this tent, and that tent, and the tent over there. Coming from virtually all the tents in the campgrounds were the sounds of baseball history. When Aaron launched Downing's pitch over the left-field wall, screams and cheers echoed throughout the campground.

It was an all white campground.

Deep in the South. In 1974.

Like I said, it was easy to like Henry Aaron.



So there isn't much cheering going on him my house, anyway.

That said, I'm glad the blast - if it had to come against the Nationals - came against the affable Mike Bacsik. John Lannan's somewhat fragile rookie-psyche might have been damaged had he been the guy to give up the "historical" blast.

Mike Bacsik didn't want to be the guy, but now that he is, he seems quite comfortable in the role. He came across in the many post-game interviews as a genuinely nice guy, a very good ying to Barry Bonds' yang. Certainly, no one wants to be remembered in a negative light, but if that's the only way you are going to be remembered, then it beats the alternative. Had he shut down Bonds, no one outside of a few elderly Nationals' fans would remember his name three decades from now. That his father - also Mike Bacsik- was a major leaguer for a few seasons in the 1970's and is not remembered today is proof that being remembered for something is better than not being remembered at all.

Al Downing, meat Mike Bacsik.

Frankly, I couldn't care less about Barry Bonds and "his night" last night. I just wanted the Nationals to win the game, especially after the Chad Cordero meltdown from the night before. I was afraid that the team was going to get inundated by the publicity and bright lights and play poorly.

Not a chance. The entire club played well (except for the aforementioned Cordero). Players who haven't been playing well (like Felipe Lopez and Nook Logan) are now, giving the offense just enough fireworks to compete every night.

I've decided that Ronnie Belliard and Dmitri Young are going to become BIG fan favorites in Washington before their playing days are through. They play with an intensity and desire that I don't see in guys like Church and Langerhans and yes, even Austin Kearns. Though Ryan Zimmerman is the face of the team's future, Belliard and Young are the team's soul, guys who weren't wanted by anyone else and found a home in a city that - according to some - didn't want baseball.

Hopefully, the boys get another win before heading into the desert.


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