Milwaukee Talks: Hank Aaron
In a quiet room at the Hilton Milwaukee City Center, Henry "Hank" Aaron entertained various media outlets on a bright Saturday afternoon in advance of his Sunday commencement speech to the Class of 2012 at Marquette University.
The baseball Hall of Famer and former home run king was accompanied by Marquette president Scott R. Pilarz, S.J., and talked about how he almost wasn't Marquette's keynote speaker, the city he called home for 14 years, and whether or not Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig was hurt by what happened with Ryan Braun this past winter.
OnMilwaukee.com: What does speaking at Marquette's commencement mean to you?
Hank Aaron: I'm thrilled. If you want to compare it to baseball or something, you get to the big leagues, and that's as far as you go. You get to Marquette, and this is the big leagues. I'm so happy not only because it's Marquette, but I'm just so happy to be here just talking about the number of kids graduating, just so happy to be here to play little, small part in their lives. It's just a stepping stone to where they're going to be at in five, six, seven, 10 years from now.
To have the opportunity to be here at Marquette and to have some of the greatest minds in research and etc., it's just a tremendous thrill for me. My mama said son, you finally got the big leagues. I'm thrilled for myself and for me having the opportunity to be here. I'm a baseball player, but I'm just so thrilled that I've been able to do something other than just hit baseballs to try to help kids chase their dreams.
OMC: What do you see in the education community in Milwaukee, down to the younger grades?
HA: That's one of the reasons why I'm here is because I'm just trying to make people understand I didn't have the opportunity to go to college. I came from a very large family. But I do know the importance of going to school and you've got to give yourself a chance. You've got to give yourself a chance to do some of the things that you should be doing. This is an automation age. You just can't go out here without an education and expect to fit in this society. You've got to be able to do some of the things. And what better facility than you have at Marquette.
OMC: Did you ever think that when you were done playing, you'd be looked to speak to people about topics well outside the parameters of fastballs and curveballs?
HA: Nope. Never thought about it. When I was playing baseball, and I played 23 years, I felt like once my career was over I had to do something, I had to be able to give something back. So I started my own foundation called Chase The Dream Foundation to help kids between the ages of seven to 12 to help them reach their dream. So, I felt like if I did something like that, that people would say that baseball was great, but you did other things. That's the main thing, that I've been fortunate to play a game for a long time and happy enough to say that I've helped a lot of kids reach their dream.
OMC: What was appealing about this call to speak to Marquette University graduates?
HA: Well, I didn't believe it. That's number one. When I first got the call I thought it was just somebody pulling my coat tail. Then I talked to a friend of mine and he said yes, it's for real. And I'm just thrilled beyond belief, to be able to stand up there and to just let kids know that in spite of all the shortcomings I may have had growing up in education that if you just give somebody a chance that they too can make some kind of thrill to life themselves.
Scott Pilarz, S.J.: It was kind of funny, like 'No, this was for real.' This man represents Marquette's highest ideals and aspirations, so it made perfect sense to us that we would have Mr. Aaron here for commencement. We had some good mutual friends that helped work this out for us, some friends here in Milwaukee. I thought 'Would he really come?' This is a tremendous honor for us. So I think we both were sort of guessing 'Is this for real?' We're thrilled that it is."
OMC: When you come to Milwaukee are there any places that you absolutely have to get to or see?
HA: I tell you, I know my way around Milwaukee. You can't lose me in this city. I kind of know my way around. I stayed here many years. I stayed in Mequon, lived in Mequon and 14th and Capitol Drive, so I know my way around Milwaukee.
OMC: Restaurant wise, is there a "must eat" place for you?
HA: Oh yeah.
OMC: You're smiling...
HA: I'd rather not say.
OMC: The Brewers are struggling right now, what do you see going on with the team?
HA: The Brewers is a baseball team and baseball teams have problems, no matter how good you may have been last year, this year is a different story. I said this with no pun intended that I think (Prince) Fielder leaving didn't help the situation because the kids that hit before him, behind him, are feeling the effect of it. But I think this ballclub is going to do well. It's going to be a good ball club.
OMC: You're long-time friends with Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig. Was he hurt at all by the leaked positive test result for Ryan Braun, and the ensuing overturning of MLB's suspension?
HA: I wish I could give you an answer, but I just don't discuss those kinds of things with the Commissioner. He's the Commissioner of baseball and he makes his decisions and we have to live by it. But, the only thing that I can say is that I think he's done a marvelous job with baseball.
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