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‘What a treat’: Hank Aaron visits UM baseball team

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
Hank Aaron speaks to the Michigan baseball team on Friday.

Before Hank Aaron took the field at Michigan Stadium on Saturday as one of Jim Harbaugh's celebrity honorary captains, he surprised the Wolverines' baseball team with a visit.

Aaron spent about a half-hour with the baseball team on campus Friday.

And the players and coaches were in absolute awe.

"What a thrill," Michigan baseball coach Erik Bakich said. "What a treat. It's a highlight, for sure, of everyone's baseball lives."

Organizing the surprise appearance was Aaron's granddaughter, Emily Haydel, a student at Michigan who works with the football team and the baseball team.

She arranged for him to come in a day before the football game, and talk to the baseball team.

"He was so filled with a lot of great insight, a lot of great perspective," Bakich said. "He had a great quote: 'What you did yesterday is only good for wrapping dead fish.'

"It was incredible, beyond words.

"He had such a terrific message."

Aaron, 82, second on baseball's all-time home-run list with 755 and arguably the greatest right-handed hitter to play the game, told the players and coaches about his poor upbringing in Mobile, Alabama, where they couldn't afford a baseball, so played with broomsticks and bottle caps.

He talked about his own hero, Jackie Robinson, and his own time in the Negro Leagues, where they would play tripleheaders.

He talked about he never really lifted weights, but got his strength in his hands from constantly squeezing rubber balls or tennis balls.

"I thought what really came through loud and clear was the humility that he carries himself with," said Bakich, "and the integrity he has."

Aaron spoke to the team at the Wilpon Complex, and then opened things up for questions once he was done with his speech.

The players and coaches took advantage to pick his brain about many different things.

Even though, you bet, they were nervous to be talking to a living legend.

"They were truly in awe, truly in disbelief that Hank Aaron was standing in front of them, speaking to them, and giving such a great message," Bakich said. "What a treat."

tpaul@detroitnews.com

Twitter @tonypaul1984