Hinch honored to have met iconic Ali

Astros manager reflects on meeting at '96 Olympics

Hinch honored to have met iconic Ali

HOUSTON -- A.J. Hinch had one encounter with Muhammad Ali during the 1996 U.S. Olympics in Atlanta that the Astros manager calls, "one of the highlights of my life."

Hinch, who has a framed picture of him and Ali at his home office, was a member of the U.S. baseball team at the '96 Olympics, where Ali lit the Olympic torch during the Opening Ceremony.

"The scoreboard was fixated on him, and I remember how quiet it was," Hinch said. "It felt like the entire world was watching this moment where you have the greatest boxer in the world, this historic figure, maybe the most recognizable athlete in the history of our time, kicking off, what for us, was a really special event. It's burned into my brain as one of the highlights of my life."

Ali, a boxing and civil rights champion, died at age 74 on Friday night of respiratory complications at a Phoenix-area hospital.

Hinch met Ali while the U.S. athletes where in a staging room before walking a lap on the Olympic track.

"We were at the front, so I got a chance to shake his hand," Hinch said. "I didn't get to talk to him a ton. He was around the ballpark quite a bit in Phoenix when I was a Diamondback.

"But to be around greatness, there's a certain feeling about it. You see it and you feel it. Very few things can you say, 'I'm around the best thing in the world.' So there was a historic feel around Muhammad Ali, and I have a great picture with him from the 1996 Olympics that I certainly reflected back and I looked at it last night after I got home, and it brings back a lot of good memories."

Ali, who won a gold medal as a light heavyweight at the 1960 Rome Olympics, was a three-time world heavyweight champion and was named Sportsman of the Century by Sports Illustrated and Sports Personality of the Century by the BBC.

Richard Dean is a contributor to MLB.com based in Houston. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.