Back in March, I almost bought a couple of tickets for the May 6 Giants-Rockies game at AT&T Park in San Francisco. But we had too much planned for the Mother’s Day weekend visiting family in the Bay Area.
Now I wish I had bought those tickets.
While Nancy and I were a BART subway train Friday evening somewhere between Oakland and Millbrae, 42,000 fans at AT&T Park were singing “Happy Birthday” to Willie Mays. The Giants then went on to beat the Rockies, 4-3.
On Saturday, I snagged every newspaper story I could find about the pre-game celebration for the Say Hey Kid on his 80th birthday.
I grew up 12 miles south of Candlestick Park, and still consider Mays the greatest baseball player of all time. When my friends and I were in Little League in the early 1960s, we got scolded by our coaches for making basket catches like Mays. “If you’re as good as Willie Mays, you can catch them that way … but you’re not,” was the standard response.
On Friday night, Mays’ former Giants teammates Willie McCovey, Gaylord Perry, Orlando Cepeda, Jimmy Davenport and Felipe Alou and announcer
Lon Simmons joined him for the birthday bash.
Mays took his turn at the mic.
“I feel so happy that I could make 80. I didn’t think I would go that far,” he told the crowd. “When you have people like you guys come here and cheer for me, it’s just a wonderful, wonderful feeling.”
The best thing I read was a snippet in the San Francisco Chronicle lifted from the newspapaper,s website, SFGate.com. An online reader who goes by stanspirad had this to say:
“For eight years in the ’60s, I sold hot dogs and beer at the ‘Stick. I saw Willie hit screaming balls to the fence in left only to drop for a wind-buffeted, warning-track out (at least 30 a year). Saw him crash into the chain-link fence while making an impossible catch. Saw him scorching from first on a single.
“But the most incredible thing in over 500 games watching him, I could never sell a hot dog while he was a bat.
“Happy birthday, Willie. You are the greatest by far.”