ATLANTA -- Long before Hank Aaron showed him the ropes, Ralph Garr seemingly knew the effort, discipline and attitude an African-American baseball player had to put forth during the 1960s and early 1970s.
There were never going to be any handouts for him, considering that he was black and small in stature. But he persevered through the biases toward his race and size, and in doing so paved a path that has kept him in baseball and with a Braves organization that gave him his start and continues to provide him both employment and joy.
"I'm so blessed, it's unreal," said the 59-year-old Garr from his Houston-area home. "If you're looking for much negative from this end, you're not going to get any of it."
Garr has plenty of reason to be thankful for the life baseball has provided. He compiled a .306 batting average and 172 stolen bases over the course of a 13-year Major League career that included stops with the Braves, White Sox and Angels. Fortunately for him, he was able to begin that journey in the big leagues alongside Aaron in Atlanta.
A short time after Garr's playing career ended, it was Aaron and the esteemed Paul Snyder who gave him a job as a Braves scout. He's maintained that job for the past 20 years, and in the process provided for his wife and four children.
"I thank God every day that I've had this opportunity," said Garr.
Along the way, he has seemingly been ready to jump on every opportunity that's presented itself. He was considered far too small to play at Grambling State University. Then, during a summer league game, he caught the eye of the school president, eventually earned a scholarship and went on to lead the nation in batting average during his senior season.
Garr was selected in the third round of the 1967 draft by the Braves, and by the next year, had the opportunity to meet Aaron in Spring Training. Almost immediately, the "Hammer" became a big-brother figure for this young speedster, who would become known as the "Road Runner."
"When I signed, I was just blessed to have a mentor like Henry Aaron," said Garr. "He didn't believe in looking for the bad. He was always looking for something good. He was just a great man, and I'm not just saying that because he's black or because he was a great player. He just was."
After Rico Carty broke his leg playing in the Dominican Winter League before the 1971 season, Garr was given an everyday job in the Braves outfield and the chance to further his friendship with Aaron and a young Dusty Baker, who became a regular in Atlanta during the 1972 season.
Aaron would often let Garr and Baker stay with him in his hotel suite during road trips. Most nights they would simply stay awake and talk about baseball, their families and life in general. Through it all, the two young men never truly knew the magnitude of the death threats being targeted at Aaron as he chased Babe Ruth's home run record.
"He'd just tell me and Dusty to be a little careful," said Garr. "He kept all of that to himself. He was just about winning ballgames. He didn't want anything to interfere with that."
There were instances, however, when Garr had reason to become agitated and hurt with racial taunts. He was playing in Atlanta, in the Deep South, where racial tensions still were high during the late 1960s and into the 1970s.
But like Garr's mother, who wouldn't let her son quit in the minors amid harassment, Aaron seemingly provided a message that enabled the young player to realize he could persevere.
"Hank was a guy who always said, 'You just have to leave all of your troubles at the door,' " said Garr. "That's why he was able to perform day in and day out. Once he got to the park, he just cared about his teammates and winning."
Though he is thankful for the path paved by Jackie Robinson, Garr feels fortunate to have walked with Aaron, as the legend navigated rough waters in such a stoic and successful manner.
"I'll take my hat off to Jackie Robinson, and to Branch Rickey for providing Jackie that opportunity," said Garr. "But Hank is truly a baseball icon for everybody. He was just a great example for baseball, period. He has always been a person who, if he started something, he had to finish it."
Today, 38 years after Garr made his Major League debut, racial tensions and improprieties still exist. Though they're far from prevalent, they provide all African-Americans a reason to continue the fight of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
"Martin Luther King gave his utmost for us," said Garr. "I feel we have to get out and educate a little more. I think we sometimes get a little lackadaisical. You have to fight every day to let someone know how important it is to get an education and strive a little more."
Fortunately for Garr, Aaron was able to clearly hammer home the message that nothing is accomplished by simply feeling bitter or hateful toward an unjust world.
"I'm not looking at a reason to cry," said Garr. "I'm looking to do something about it."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.