San Francisco’s Most Iconic Figure … Willie Mays at 90 Still Thrills the Crowd

I was fortunate to watch Willie Mays frequently in the prime of his career. My friends and I all took it for granted that the “Say Hey Kid” was one of the best.

It’s no surprise Willie is still a presence at the age of 90 and revered by all.

San Francisco Chronicle – John Shea 5.7.2021

Things happened quickly. As they always did when Willie Mays owned the baseball diamond.

The legendary ballplayer appeared in the front seat of a 1956 turquoise and white Oldsmobile convertible, which pulled out of the opening in the left-field corner and made a lap around the Oracle Park field, Mays doffing his cap to elated fans wishing him a happy 90th birthday.

Willie Mays V 5.7.2021.jpg
Receiving Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Obama

Then the Olds retreated through the opening, and the birthday kid retreated to his suite overlooking left field.

In his suite, Mays was jubilant. Back at his second home, where a statue of his likeness greets passers-by, he was in his element and among friends, not just the 9,219 fans in attendance but those fortunate enough to hang with him in his suite.

Mays spoke of how appreciative he was of all the love and phone calls he received the past couple of days. Danny Glover spoke of how he loved watching Mays play as far back as Seals Stadium, inspiring his pregame narration.

Willie Mays IV 5.7.2021
Willie Mays Most Iconic Moment – The Catch September 29, 1954

“He’s the summer wind,” said Glover, Friday evening’s narrator, his voice bellowing throughout the stadium just before Mays made his first on-field appearance at 24 Willie Mays Plaza since 2019.

“His very essence is movement,” continued Glover, the actor, director and San Francisco native whose words were accompanied by classic highlights shown on the center-field scoreboard. “Running out from under his cap. Stealing bases. Chasing fly balls. The basket catch. His windmill of a swing. The most famous catch in baseball history.

After Glover’s tribute, PA announcer Renel Brooks-Moon introduced the man of the hour and the man of all time, “The Hall of Famer … No. 24 … Mr. … Willie Mays.”

Willie May IV 5.7.2021
Young Willie Mays on the streets of New York

The roar of the crowd, still limited because of the coronavirus, greeted Mays, whose smile lit up Third and Mission, a sight welcomed by all who waited a long time to return to the ballpark, waited a long time to see their hero, making his first visit to Oracle since late in the 2019 season.

Willie Mays VI 5.7.2021.jpgThroughout the game, the scoreboard showed many videos of shout-outs to Willie including from Bonds, Vin Scully, George W. Bush, Steph Curry, Steve Young, Magic Johnson, Gavin Newsom, Wayne Gretzky, Snoop Dogg, Ronnie Lott, Ken Griffey Jr., Steve Kerr, London Breed and Tom Brady (who actually received some boos).

After the third inning, Brooks-Moon led a chorus of the Happy Birthday song, and Mays and Bonds, his godson, cut the cake. It was shown on the scoreboard, and fans cheered and cherished the moment and the presence of greatness.