By Alyse Shorland, CNN
(CNN) - The night of April 8, 1974, Braves outfielder Hank Aaron hit home-run number 715, broke the record held by the legendary Babe Ruth and became, at that time, the home-run leader in baseball.
But two other men were enshrined in history with him – Clifford Courtenay and Britt Gaston. They were students, just 17 at the time. They leaped from their seats and bounded onto the field and ran to third base with Aaron. Images from the game show them circling the field together.
Clifford Courtenay is now Dr. Courtenay. He’s 55, an optometrist in Valdosta, Georgia. Courtenay’s life wasn’t changed by that home run almost 38 years ago. At the time, he says, he and Gaston didn’t really understand that the moment was bigger than baseball - Aaron was an MVP, All-Star and long-time Braves player, but he'd come to the Major League from the American Negro League, and still received death threats from fans who didn't want to see a black man break the Babe's record. In the moment, many weren't sure how to interpret the actions of the young white men on the field.
The guys running the bases with him were “dumb 17 year olds," Courtenay said.
Over time, Courtenay came to resent the photo as it followed him to school in Memphis, to Tucson and back to Georgia. Reporters would call him at all hours of the night and ask him the same questions, over and over.
“It wasn’t like I felt what it was like being a celebrity, but it was what it would be like to be in the fishbowl and what it would be like to be in the spotlight,” he said.
When a CNN reporter called him this time, something was different.
“I never looked at the photo, but I do think about it now. I think about it more than I used to. I used to get annoyed with it because how much can you say about it? But I guess I have a little softer spot now for it now.”
That soft spot for Courtenay appeared last year, when his fellow bandit base-runner, Gaston, passed away on September 3.
Courtenay and Gaston had kept in touch - they had met with Aaron on several occasions to speak with reporters and sign baseballs – but Courtenay says they led separate lives. That changed two years ago when Gaston became ill. They reconnected, Courtenay said, and spoke regularly about life, and also about Gaston’s battles with cancer.
“Seeing him and his deterioration was sad and it makes me think, ‘We had this public moment and it will always be there.’ It’s hard to express,” Courtenay said.
What was once an annoyance is now a fond remembrance of a man whom Courtenay might not have otherwise been connected with.
“Britt was a bold, charismatic, bright individual who was a little bit reckless and a bit stubborn but he was one of those people, whether you liked him or not, you couldn’t not like him," Courtenay said. "Some people just have a magnetism about them. He was that kind of guy.”
Last year, Courtenay and Gaston got together with Aaron for another meeting, where they signed baseballs for charity - the three men scribbling on baseballs to serve as mementos for others.
This year, as a gift, Courtenay wanted to give Gaston the one thing he didn’t have in his life: Courtenay and Aaron signed a baseball together and gave it to Gaston.