I glanced up from my paper this morning to see a news alert: “Hammerin’ Hank Aaron dies at 86!” Oh, no! My memory raced away, back to 1974, where in the face of numerous death threats, Hank went after the Babe’s revered home run record, and smashed it. I wish I could have known him.

I actually did write to him once, when he had 714 home runs under his belt and one to go to beat the Bambino. And he wrote back! Here’s how it happened:

At the time, Hank was all the talk from barber shops to taxicabs to my morning radio program on the Island of Maui. So, I shucked a coconut and polished-up the perfectly round, smooth interior nut. Then I took a black felt pen and wrote on it, “HAMMER IT, HANK! AND CONGRATS FROM MAUI!”

I boxed up that coconut and enclosed a note wishing Hank every success and mailed it off to Atlanta. Well, you might remember what happened. Hank hit number 715 out of the park and down the street behind the park. The most worshiped record in all of American sport was broken and was now held by Hammerin’ Hank Aaron.

A week later I received a box in the mail from Atlanta. I opened it live on the air and almost cried when I discovered therein a baseball signed by Hank, along with the number 715. In a note, the gracious gentleman who was Hank Aaron thanked Maui for the lucky coconut that he had placed in his locker on the very day he hit the home run heard ’round the world. It gave me chicken skin all over … still does.

So where is that baseball today? I wish I knew. We put it under glass in the lobby of KNUI Radio, where it proudly resided when I moved to Lake Tahoe 37 years ago. Taking Mark Twain to Maui a few years later, I dropped into KNUI for a visit, and noticed in silence that Hank’s ball was no longer on display there in the lobby. I hope it found a good home.

I wonder if Hank kept that lucky Maui coconut, or if he decided to drink it instead. Yes, I enclosed instructions for making the perfect coconut cocktail. You lop the top off that coconut and pour some brown sugar inside. Mix the sugar with the coconut milk. Replace the top and bury that coconut 6 inches deep in the hot sand. Let it ferment five days, and voila! But don’t drink it all in one helping.

Hank broke many records in his distinguished baseball career, but more than that he defied racism when racism in sports was running rampant, and he did it with continuous class. May he rest in eternal peace. We should close here with Hank’s graceful words, words that all of us can call on when we need them most:

“My motto was always to keep swinging. Whether I was in a slump or feeling badly or having trouble off the field, the only thing to do was keep swinging.”

McAvoy Layne is a 30-year impressionist of Mark Twain who can be reached at GhostofTwain.com.

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