Giants celebrate Willie Mays’ life in star-studded 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 plate at Oracle Park, and under a bright sun, they were filled by 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, everyone in attendance was covered in shadow. But center field remained in the sun and the number 24, placed at second base, remained brightly lit. Barry Bonds looked at the number and the outfield where he once played and summarized a moving ceremony.

“Thank you, Willie,” he said, choking up. “Thank you.”

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 truly a celebration, filled with emotional stories but also many funny anecdotes. It was a fitting farewell to a man who played and lived with so much joy.

The event drew approximately 4,500 fans to Oracle Park and it was no surprise that the biggest star in franchise history had perhaps the largest collection of stars ever at the stadium.

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

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

“Willie Mays gave me the chance to realize what true greatness is,” Clinton said. “It’s a remarkable combination of intelligence, dedication, a will to win and a fundamental humility to believe that the effort is the prize, a gift he leaves to all of us 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 a theme of almost every speech. There was no one who played the game like Mays, who left a legacy that goes far beyond his Hall of Fame numbers.

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

“Right midfield, where he played in midfield, could just as well 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 recent retirees Buster Posey, Hunter Pence, Sergio Romo and Javier Lopez. Reggie Jackson, Dennis Eckersley, Dave Stewart and Ricky Henderson were among the former MLB stars also in attendance, along with the families of Giants Hall of Famers Orlando Cepeda, Willie McCovey and Gaylord Perry.

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

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

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