Giants celebrate Willie Mays’ life in star-power-packed ceremony – NBC Sports Bay Area & California

SAN FRANCISCO — The seats began filling up shortly after 3 p.m. Monday afternoon. A dozen rows were set up behind and around the home plate at Oracle Park, and under a bright sun, they were filled with Hall of Famers, Giants executives, former managers, former players, members of the media, mayors and even a president.

Three hours later, as the sun began to set, all the participants were covered in shadow. But center field remained in the sun, and the number 24, installed at second base, remained brightly lit. Barry Bonds looked at the number and the outfield where he had played and summed up a moving ceremony.

“Thanks, Willie,” he said, his voice choked. “Thanks.”

Three weeks after Willie Mays passed away, a large crowd gathered at Oracle Park for what was called a public celebration of his life. It was a celebration, filled with moving stories but also many amusing anecdotes. It was a fitting farewell to a man who played and lived with immense joy.

The event drew approximately 4,500 fans to Oracle Park and, unsurprisingly, the biggest star in franchise history brought perhaps the largest collection of stars the stadium has ever seen.

Former President Bill Clinton entered just before the ceremony began and sat between Larry Baer and Willie Brown, one of three former San Francisco mayors in attendance. Clinton was a surprise guest speaker and was introduced by Jon Miller as a friend of Mays.

Clinton recalls that as a child in Arkansas, he loved the St. Louis Cardinals, but his real passion was listening to national games on the radio, which allowed him to hear The Catch. Later, after leaving the White House, he became friends with Mays and often played golf with him.

“Willie Mays gave me the opportunity to understand what true greatness is,” Clinton said. “It’s a curious combination of intelligence, dedication, the will to win, and a fundamental humility that allows one to believe that effort is the reward, a gift he leaves to all of us and one that I hope we can all share and cherish.”

Clinton said Hank Aaron once told him Mays was the best player he had ever seen, and that was the theme of almost every speech he made. No one played like Mays, who left a legacy that goes far beyond his Hall of Fame numbers.

Felipe Alou, a former teammate of Mays, said his skills were the best he had seen in 68 years as a player, coach and manager. Another teammate, Joe Amalfitano, said he would have liked to see Mays play at Oracle Park.

“Right-center field, with him playing center field, could have been called Death Valley,” he said.

Commissioner Rob Manfred and Hall of Fame manager Joe Torre represented Major League Baseball, and the Giants were represented by dozens of former players, including recently retired Buster Posey, Hunter Pence, Sergio Romo and Javier Lopez. Former MLB stars also in attendance included Reggie Jackson, Dennis Eckersley, Dave Stewart and Ricky Henderson, along with the families of Giants Hall of Famers Orlando Cepeda, Willie McCovey and Gaylord Perry.

The program concluded with a speech by Michael Mays, Willie’s son. He thanked the participants and led a prayer, then spoke passionately about his father’s work in the community, especially with children.

“I know most of you came here to say goodbye and move on, but not so much me,” Mays said. “His presence is visible everywhere. I am filled with pride in the continued outpouring of love for him.”

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