Willie Mays

Mays' iconic impact, legacy felt by Giants' newest coaches

NBC Universal, Inc.

NAPA, Calif. -- For most of America, Feb. 4, 2024, might appear to be just another day. But to baseball fans in the San Francisco Bay Area, 2.4.24 will forever be known as "Willie Mays Day."

The city and county of San Francisco officially recognized the holiday this week, with San Francisco Mayor London Breed holding a press conference Sunday alongside franchise icon and Mays' godson, Barry Bonds, and Giants CEO Larry Baer.

The "Say Hey Kid" is a living legend not only locally, but internationally, and is recognized as one of, if not the greatest player to ever step foot on a baseball diamond.

He needs no introduction but still receives one, followed by a roaring standing ovation, every time the 92-year-old attends a game at Oracle Park. Mays' legendary status is not lost on anyone, especially former Giants players-turned-coaches Bob Melvin and Matt Williams, who share fond memories of Mays both as a fan and player.

In speaking to reporters on Saturday at Giant Fan Fest in Napa, Melvin, a Bay Area native, shared his favorite memory of Mays, which predates his time with the organization.

"Look, this guy -- I'm biased because I grew up here watching him and have the ticket for this 3,000th hit, grew up in an area where he lived too -- so he's like, when you talk baseball to me, Willie Mays is at the top of the list," Melvin said. "But I think everybody in the area and everybody in baseball knows that this is, arguably, all-around the best player that's ever played and had such an impact on the area here, that I think is fantastic."

Mays' 3,000th hit, a single off Montreal pitcher Mike Wegener on July 18, 1970, at Candlestick Park, is a memory that Melvin will never forget.

"Base hit between short and third," Melvin recalled.

Fast forward several years and Melvin -- a young catcher with the Giants from 1986-1988 -- was awestruck walking into a clubhouse where several franchise icons roamed freely. The Bay Area native, understandably, was mistified by Mays' presence and eventually worked up the courage to ask him one burning question.

"I started interacting with him when I was with the Giants, and when I walked into the clubhouse, my locker was between he and Willie McCovey, so took a while to get used to that and even have the courage to go up and say hi to him," Melvin added.

"But I remember asking him, 'You hit 660 home runs at Candlestick Park, wind blowing from left. How did you do that?' He goes 'Well, when the wind blows in from left, I hit them out to right' and he showed you like the perfect inside-out swing. In today's age, you can explain it, but he just did it. He knew the feeling and it was all instinct and it was all feel. I just remember him showing me that and it was like the perfect swing to hit the ball to right field."

Williams, arguably the greatest third baseman in Giants franchise history, returns to the organization as the third base coach on Melvin's staff. Having played for San Francisco for 10 years from 1987-1996, Williams has his fair share of Mays memories. Perhaps none better than his first.

"One of my first experiences walking into spring training as a 21-year-old just out of college," Williams recalled. "I walked in Day 1 and I wanted to get there early, because I figured that would be a good impression for Roger Craig and the coaching staff. So I got there early and I walked in and the guys that were in the clubhouse sitting around the table holding court were Mays, McCovey, [Juan] Marichal, Jim Ray Hart.

"What better experience could a young Giant have than walking in Day 1 and seeing that? Love him, love him a lot. He taught me a lot over the course of those 10 years."

To this day, Mays' legacy is not lost on Williams and baseball fans young and old.

"He's arguably the greatest player that ever lived," Williams said.

While the official San Francisco holiday might last just one day, Mays' legacy and impact on baseball and the Bay Area has and will continue for eternity.

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