Close to Heaven
By Dave Roulston
It was April 8, 1974 in Thunder Bay, Ontario, and Hammerin’ Hank Aaron needed one more home run to eclipse Babe Ruth’s record of 714. The American network had a special television broadcast of the Atlanta Braves game and, by chance, a historic moment.
My father had big plans for that night. He was the kind of sports fan who, as a kid, brought a radio to his one-room rural schoolhouse during the World Series. So watching this was going to be the ultimate nirvana for a lifelong sports fan. And being the wonderful father he was, he wanted me to share in the moment. In fact, he encouraged me to invite my friends, which I did.
He sat in his La-Z-Boy with a Diet Pepsi, smoking his Kool cigarettes and hardly able to contain his excitement. This was going to be an event to remember. But I had other plans; I suppose I was acting smart to impress my seven- and eight-year-old friends who had gathered in the living room.
My father would take a sip of his Diet Pepsi, and we would feign taking a sip of an imaginary pop. He would take a drag on his cigarette, and we three little kids pretended to take a drag, our theatrics practiced and complete with furrowed brow on inhale. My friends and I had occasionally done this unauthorized mimicry of my father while he watched sports, and in retrospect I can see how this would be totally unnerving for my father. He would look over and say, “Drop it, son,” which was my cue to pretend to pick something up and drop it. My friends would snort in suppressed laughter. But on this April night, I had done it one too many times and was sent to my room.
Some time later my father came to the room and said, “C’mon, son, Hank Aaron’s coming up to bat.” Midway through his invitation I heard squeaky little voices squealing. “He did it… he did it… he hit a home run… Hank Aaron did it!” the voices said.
My father and I stood face to face in the bedroom, and in a split second I saw all the stages of grief flash through this big Irishman’s eyes. He raced off to the living room; I followed. My friends were dancing below a big cloud of cigarette smoke that clung to our living room ceiling. On the television Hank Aaron was fighting through a sea of frenzied fans, trying to make his way to home plate and history.
Clouds of cigarette smoke generally do not cling to living room ceilings across the country today, but clouds do dog the credibility of home run records. But I don’t care about that. I only hope that when home run records are broken in the future the man of the day takes a mighty swing and hits it far and as close to heaven as possible, so that those who missed the last one get a close look.
About the author
Born in Fort William, Ontario, in 1966, Dave Roulston works in social services in southern Ontario. He is a long-suffering Blue Jay fan who has fond memories of the 1992 and 1993 seasons and of the Expos, a team he watched weekly on TV before the Jays arrived.