Last summer, Padgett had the opportunity to hear from the President and CEO of the World Champion Atlanta Braves about what it takes to build a championship organization. As a thank you, Padgett made a donation in honor of legendary Braves player, executive and entrepreneur Hank Aaron, to the fund established in his name. The Henry Louis Aaron Fund was created support to the baseball legend’s lifelong passion to increase minority participation in baseball on the field, in baseball’s business operations, in careers at minor and major league level, and in the front offices of Clubs across Major League Baseball.
As we near Opening Day, we wanted to check back in with the organization and see how they are putting those funds to work in the community. Under the guidance of Eugene Brooks, the Braves Director of Diversity Marketing, the organization is following Hank’s lead and making a positive impact on the lives of so many in Braves Country, which comprises six states.
“We want people to know that this is not an exclusive group,” he says. “All are welcome here. Our goal is to invite everyone into the ballpark. I think what’s important about trying to make a diverse audience is appreciating where the sport came from.”
From Bill Lucas, the first Black general manager in major league baseball, to stars like Hank Aaron, Dusty Baker, Terry Pendleton, David Justice, and newly elected member of the baseball Hall of Fame Fred McGriff, it’s clear that Black history is the Braves’ history. “They had an impact on the city as well as the organization,” Eugene says. “They generated a lot of excitement for the sport. It was important for more kids to see African-Americans playing the game. Now, we have to create a new generation for our fanbase, teaching them this sport known as the ‘American Pastime,’ and the teamwork and respect that goes into it.”
As part of this initiative, the Braves recently produced a YouTube short film about NL Rookie of the Year Michael Harris II. “It’s called the Dream and the Journey,” Eugene says. “And that’s what it’s about, showcasing what hard work can do and how you can dream. We’re trying to show more cases like his, more stories of perseverance.”
“I’ve seen a lot of the kids around the Atlanta area loving the Braves, and some of the players that had an impact on the city,” Michael says in the video. “I feel like I wanted to be the same type of person and leave an impact on the city.”
Like so many, Michael is following in the enormous footsteps of Hank Aaron, who broke barriers on and off the field. After his record-breaking career, he became one of the first people of color in MLB upper-level management when he became the Braves’ vice president and director of player development. He also owned a number of businesses around Atlanta and across the country. Long after his playing career was over, he was still looking for ways to make an impact.
“Giving back to the community, restoring fields, granting scholarships, creating opportunities for people to learn the game… that’s what Hank was about,” Eugene says. “It’s an expensive sport. You lose participation in the sport as kids grow up because it gets expensive. You need organizations like this to help schools and kids and rec centers, buying baseballs, cleats and uniforms. That’s where the fund becomes really important to the community.”
“I was introduced to baseball at age 7 when my dad took me to see the Braves at Atlanta Stadium,” he says. “There was a time when my grandmother didn’t have the funds to get me a baseball, so she’d make me one from scraps of fabric. [Being part of the Braves] is very important to me and it’s an opportunity to come full circle and honor my grandmother for doing what she could to give me a baseball. I care about bringing the game of baseball to more African Americans because I know what that’s like.”
Today, the Braves have poured almost $8 million to the community and showcase minority participation in the sport through hosting games like the Native American showcase, the ACLU showcase, and the Hank Aaron invitational.
“We have to do our part to provide opportunities and showcase people of color.” Eugene says, “We can’t help everybody every year, but we help where we can.”
“We all know Hank was great a baseball player, but everyone who has ever come into contact with him knows that he was an even better person,” Padgett president Roger Harris said. “We wanted to continue to honor Hank’s legacy with our gift to the fund and hope that many in our organization will do the same.”
So, on the eve of a new baseball season, let’s remember Hank and the many who have followed him who are using their time and resources to make their communities a little brighter.
If you would like to learn more about the Henry Louis Aaron fund or make a contribution, please visit https://www.mlb.com/braves/fans/hank-aaron/fund