Everywhere he walked, an entourage followed.
Baseball legend Hank Aaron greets his guests during festivities celebrating the opening of his new Jaguar-Land Rover dealership off Washington Road in Evans. Hundreds gathered for the event.
Photo by Michael Holahan
There were those who mingled nearby to get a closer look, those who snapped photos for a family member and three officers assigned for his protection.
At the Columbia County reception of sushi and roast beef spreads, "the Hammer,'' Hank Aaron, seemed to be the orchestrator of a crowd more than willing to follow his lead.
And in the minutes before he officially announced the opening of the Hank Aaron Jaguar Land Rover dealership off Washington Road in Evans on Thursday night, county Columbia County Commission members and many other dignitaries stood in awe, some remembering when he broke baseball's all-time home run record; others, such as commission Chairman Ron Cross, were trying to nail down the year Aaron's Braves beat the New York Yankees in the World Series.
It was either 1957 or 1958, Cross recalled.
Aaron knew for sure.
"It was '57,'' he said, chewing on a bite of sushi, to the echo of several others surrounding him repeating the answer.
One question officials said not to ask Aaron was one pertaining to Barry Bonds, who is close to tying Aaron's home run record and has recently been placed under scrutiny as concerns about steroid use by others has made news.
Aaron, dressed in a pinstriped suit, red tie and glasses, was quickly whisked away to a presentation, where he then formally addressed a crowd of hundreds of fans and dignitaries.
"This is a tremendous opportunity for the Hank Aaron Automotive Group,'' he said. "I'd just like to say I'm no stranger to this area. I played baseball in this city. This is a great city.''
Aaron, a 1982 inductee to baseball's Hall of Fame, lives in Atlanta, was born in Mobile, Ala., and opened his first dealership in 1995. He holds the lifetime home run record of 755 and lifetime record for most runs batted in at 2,297. He also is the owner and president of Hank Aaron Automotive Group and chairman of the board of 755 Restaurant Corp., a franchisee of Church's Chicken, Popeyes and Krispy Kreme in Atlanta and Charlotte, N.C., a news release states.
Aaron said he had been asked many times why he chose Columbia County as a site for one of his new dealerships. He said the decision was actually made by other officials from Land Rover and Jaguar, but "I would have picked this area myself.''
Before the presentation, Aaron said the Columbia County site is one of four throughout Georgia, but the Evans dealership is "one of the first of its kind to be built like this.''
Aaron said the Augusta area has "a history of sports in more ways than one,'' adding that it has "some of the greatest golf in the world.''
"And we want to be part of this community,'' he said.
It was then that Aaron and the night's crowd walked outside in front of the new dealership for a ribbon-cutting. And this time, Aaron was in the spotlight, not with a baseball bat, but with a pair of scissors nearly the size of a bat.
Camera flashes illuminated the night and captured a baseball legend with graying hair. After a few quick conversations, Aaron walked back inside the new dealership.
And once again, the adoring entourage followed.
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