He tells of attending a very special Atlanta Braves’ baseball home opener on April 8, 1974. It was a night game against the Dodgers and it was a complete sellout. Williams looked around to see that, seated immediately behind him was singer Pearl Bailey. Up at the plate: the immortal Henry Aaron. On the line: Babe Ruth’s record of 714 career home runs. Aaron had tied the record and tonight he was aiming to break it.
Understand that this was nearly 40 years ago. An African-American player was about to topple the great Babe Ruth--and a lot of people in the country didn’t like it. Aaron got a lot of mail that year--more than 930,000 letters in all, far more than any other person in the country. Most were fan letters--but about 100,000 of them were hate letters, some containing death threats.
Williams says he was on the edge of his seat when Dodgers pitcher Al Downing hurled the ball toward the plate. Aaron swung and connected. The crack of his bat echoed through the stands.
The ball was gone. Home run. Babe Ruth’s record was shattered. The ballpark went nuts.
“As Aaron rounded second base,” says Williams, “a couple of teenagers--both white--jumped over the retaining wall and ran onto the field, chasing Aaron. For a moment, no one knew what they had in mind, but then it became clear: they were celebrating and cheering Aaron on. As Aaron crossed the plate, the dugout emptied as the Braves streamed onto the field to surround him, cheering and whooping it up. But amid all those ballplayers around Aaron was a short, sixty-eight-year-old black woman. She latched onto Aaron and wouldn’t let go of him.
“Henry Aaron turned and said to her, ‘Mom! What are you doing here?’
“‘Baby,’ said the mother of the new home-run king, ‘if they’re gonna get you,’ (thinking of the death threats Aaron had received) ‘they’ve gotta get me first!’”
That is love only a mother could have for her child. “If they’re gonna get you, they’ve gotta get me first!”
–Pat Williams, A Lifetime of Success, (Grand Rapids. MI: Fleming H. Revell, 2000), pp. 109-110, adapted by King Duncan