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Sad Day By The Bay

Willie Mays. Was there ever a better name for a ball player? Willie Mays. Just the mention of his name brings a smile to all, even Dodger fans. Willie Mays.

I grew-up in SoCal in the small beach town of Solana Beach near San Diego. I began playing baseball in our neighborhood at age 6 and knew most of the stars and even their stats due to my new hobby of collecting baseball cards. My favorite player was Mickey Mantle because my grandpa had told me he was best the player at the time. This would have been 1957 or 1958. About that time our next door neighbor Mr. Taylor moved and gave me a radio. My very own radio!

Remember, TV was relatively new and most sets were black and white. I learned rather quickly that after my parents thought I was in bed sleeping, I could gingerly tune in Dodger games and quietly listen to them instead of going to sleep. Every summer from 1960-62 I was there at the game with Vin Scully while my folks thought I was asleep. Vinnie introduced me to all the National League stars at the time. Remember, there was no inter-league play back then except the All-Star game and the World Series. Henry Aaron (he never called him Hank), Roberto Clemente, Stan Musial, Ernie Banks and Frank Robinson. But when it came to Willie Mays you could tell even then, as a 7 year old kid, that Vin Scully thought Willie was in a class by himself. It didn’t matter that he played for the Giants. He was that good.

But in August of 1962, my Father took a job with the State Department of Education in Sacramento and the family upped and moved to Davis. I was devastated at that age to leave all my friends behind. But I brought my baseball card collection and found other kids in school that September who also collected cards and we instantly had a bond and were eager to share and show each other what we had. I soon discovered that this Willie Mays was EVERYONE’S favorite player up here.

Though still a Mantle fan, I began to take notice. Now I was listening to Russ Hodges and Lon Simmons (still my all-time favorite announcer with Hank Greenwald 2nd.) every night and soon began to follow the Giants. And you know what? This Willie Mays is the real deal!! I became a Giants fan.

My greatest memory of Willie was not a home run or a great catch or a fantastic throw. It was a single. And though this is strictly by memory, I don’t think it even left the infield. It was game 3 of the National League playoffs. Winner goes to World Series. Loser goes home. We were waiting for our house to be finished and were living in a rental house with no TV so a neighbor kid who I had just met invited me to watch the game at his house. There were lots of kids and his parents in the living room. Everyone a Giants fan.

Dodger Stadium. 9th inning. Giants trail 4-2 as I recall. Tension in the room. The Giants load the bases. Up comes Willie Mays. The tension turns to a happy confidence. Willie scorches a liner right over the pitcher. He manages to knock it down (I forget who he was) but by the time he retrieved the ball everyone was safe. Though they were still trailing, the bases were still loaded and the momentum had clearly shifted. Three more runs would score on a walk, a sac fly and an error but it was Willie Mays who started the rally. And that rally carried them to victory.

I remember leaving my new friend’s house through the front screen door feeling giddy with excitement that my two favorite players would be in the World Series together. The sky was an eerie orange due to a wildfire in Southern Oregon and I thought it might be an omen as I walked back home.

But unfortunately Bobby Richardson had other ideas.

So it was appropriate late Tuesday afternoon as I sat watching the Giants vs. Cubs game that I would get the news actually watching the Giants on TV. I was watching with the sound off because unless it’s Kruk and Keip I’d rather just watch. While the game was going my smart watch buzzed with a tone specific to a Giants highlight. I’m thinking, “Nothing just happened in the game, I wonder what the Giants app is alerting me for.” I looked down and can still see it. Willie Mays dies at 93. I turned the sound on. No mention. Must not have announced it yet. Sarah is out watering the plants. I go outside to tell her and I find I can’t even say it. She stops what she is doing and looks up. As I say the words, and even now as I type them, the tears begin to flow. Willie Mays is dead.

Willie Mays. Was there ever a better name for a ball player?

Willie Mays. Was there ever a better ball player?

One Comment

  1. Lew Chichester July 4, 2024

    Lindy Peters and I must be about the same age, discovering baseball and the San Francisco Giants as eight or nine year old boys. My family had just moved to the Bay Area in 1960 from our previous home in provincial, segregated, Deep South middle Georgia. There were no major league ball clubs down South back then, just the AAA Atlanta Crackers (I think that’s what they were called in those days). It almost seems like magic that I was was transported to a neighborhood with Catholics across the street, a Russian family on the corner, a Spanish speaking flamenco dancer in the apartment upstairs, kids in class who had lived in Europe, a school teacher from England who had been around the world. And the Giants, who were almost the United Nations of baseball. They were from everywhere baseball was played. The starting lineup I can still recall. Along with Kennedy getting elected president and Willie Mays in center field the world was going to be all right.

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