Baseball gathers behind home plate to honor Hammerin' Hank

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Atlanta Braves Chairman Terry McGuirk speaks during "A Celebration of Henry Louis Aaron," a memorial service celebrating the life and enduring legacy of the late Hall of Famer and American icon, on Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021, at Truist Park in Atlanta. (Kevin D. Liles/Atlanta Braves via AP Pool)

ATLANTA – Brian Snitker choked back tears as he remembered Hank Aaron’s affection for those who didn’t possess his unparalleled talent on the baseball field.

During his post-playing career running the Atlanta Braves farm system, the Hammer had a penchant for looking beyond the can’t-miss prospects.

“He always wanted to move a player up, and he preferred that it wasn’t the so-called bonus babies," said Snitker, who has managed the Braves since 2016 and got his start in the dugout thanks to Aaron. "He wanted to get that grinder guy, the guy who was overachieving.”

Snitker was among those who spoke Tuesday at a memorial service honoring Aaron, who died last week from natural causes at the age of 86.

Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred, Hall of Famer Chipper Jones and former Braves outfielder Marquis Grissom were among those who spoke at the ceremony, which was held before a small, socially distanced crowd — including Aaron’s widow, Billye, and other family members — on the concourse directly behind home plate at Truist Park.

The remarks were delivered in an exhibit known as Monument Garden, which prominently features a statue of Aaron delivering the swing that produced 755 homers.

Others sent videotaped tributes, including Baseball Hall of Famers John Smoltz and Tom Glavine, one-time Aaron teammate and current Houston Astros manager Dusty Baker, reigning National League MVP Freddie Freeman, and former Braves great Dale Murphy, who captured back-to-back MVP awards in the 1980s.

Aaron’s famed No. 44 was painted in the dormant grass of center field. Braves Chairman Terry McGuirk noted the unseasonably warm January weather — the temperature climbed into the upper 60s — as a sign from above honoring one of the game’s greatest icons.