On the Rickwood Classic, Mays' fighting spirit shapes the San Francisco Giants' loss to the Cardinals

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama – Flanked by Barry Bonds on one side and Ken Griffey Jr. on the opposite, Willie Mays' son, Michael Mays, delivered a message to the crowds gathered at historic Rickwood Field Thursday night to recollect his late, great father.

“I knew if my father could come here, he would,” he said. “But he found another way.”

Two days after his death at age 93, Mays' presence was omnipresent within the 114-year-old, single-story jewel box where he began his profession as an expert baseball player. The event had long been planned to honor Mays, who grew up in nearby Westfield, his fellow Negro Leaguers who also called the stadium home and the 180 other future Hall of Famers who passed through these hallowed grounds. When the Giants learned Tuesday that the all-time great had died, the event took on added significance.

Before the sport, which featured a three-run home run by Heliot Ramos but ultimately resulted in a 6-5 loss to the Cardinals, manager Bob Melvin decided that after Mays' death, it was finally the suitable time to deal with his team.

“We had a team meeting with BoMel and he went over some of the stories,” right-hander Jordan Hicks said. “He said he knew he was here now. I felt it, just in his words.”

It was the primary time Melvin had shared a moment together with his team since his childhood neighbor died. He had waved to him from his pink Cadillac, had a locker next to him when he was traded to his hometown team as a rookie and personally congratulated him on Hall of Fame stationery when he was hired because the Giants' manager this winter. He said the one World Series ring he owns is the one possession from 4 a long time in the sport he cherishes a lot.

When Melvin learned of Mays' death shortly before the beginning of Tuesday's game at Wrigley Field, he initially mourned and remembered Mays alone, giving his players the chance to do the identical.

Two days later, Mays made his 1947 skilled debut within the makeshift clubhouse that had been erected outside the stadium. Just a brief drive from his parents' home, the manager was a raconteur, recounting his most memorable moments with the all-time great and providing a platform for others to do the identical.

“I just wanted to share a few stories and open up the discussion if anyone else has something to share, and how special it is to be here playing on the field where he started his career,” Melvin said. “How special he was. Not just in baseball, but in life in general. And what he meant to me. And what he meant to the team. What he meant to the Bay Area. What he meant to baseball. He's a true icon in the world.”

The news was received as if it were vital to know the importance of Thursday's game, the primary between major league teams on the nation's oldest ballpark, Rickwood Field, which opened in 1910 and hosted its first skilled games for the teenage Mays three and a half a long time later.

From the moment the Giants team bus arrived on the stadium, they took every opportunity to pay their last respects to the late legend.

Players, coaches, staff – everyone – exited the bus wearing gray replica jerseys with “Birmingham” on the front and the number 8 on the back. It was the identical uniform Mays wore when he made his debut for the Birmingham Black Barons at age 17.

Both teams wore the “Mays 24” patch, which the Giants debuted on Wednesday, and Cardinals shortstop Masyn Winn, who’s half black, said, “I hope we wear it every day.”

The backdrop for Melvin's pregame meeting was Mays' Hall of Fame plaque, which had been flown in from Cooperstown and was displayed, decorated with flowers, within the carpeted, air-conditioned tent that served because the Giants' temporary home base.

When Michael Mays finished his speech, shouts of “Willie!” and “Say Hey!” erupted from the sold-out crowd of 8,332.

“He's on everyone's mind,” said LaMonte Wade Jr., who was unable to play despite his and the Giants' best efforts to avoid injury rules. “The game was so important from the beginning because of Willie, and for this to happen now, his presence is definitely here.”

Wade's hamstring strain last month prevented him from playing in the sport, but he played a significant role within the pregame festivities. Wade was considered one of three black players on the Giants — together with Hicks and Spencer Bivens — and took part within the all-black lineup's first card exchange at home plate.

The only five black umpires in MLB – Alan Porter, Adrian Johnson, CB Bucknor, Malachi Moore and Jeremie Rehak – served because the crew for the sport.

The historic moment got here shortly after a pregame ceremony that included a video commemorating Mays narrated by Jon Miller, a parade of former Negro League players escorted by current Giants and Cardinals players, a live band led by Jon Baptiste and a gaggle of Lindy Hop dancers moving to the music.

May's former teammate on the Black Barons, 99-year-old Pastor Bill Greason, threw the primary pitch and was accompanied to the mound by Wade, Reggie Jackson, Derek Jeter and Willie McGee.

If only Mays might have been there.

Oh, but he was.

“I've been thinking about this since I heard the news of his passing,” said outfielder Mike Yastrzemski. “I've come to terms with the fact that I think there was a reason for it, so he could be here spiritually. He could be here with us. Otherwise he wouldn't have made it. As much as it hurts to lose such a legend, we gained an angel and a saint who is here for this series. It's very special and I think everyone here feels that.”

The game was significant for Yastrzemski for other reasons as well, particularly because he was now the third generation of his family to play on the ballpark.

Yastrzemski, who joins his Hall of Fame grandfather Carl and his father Michael, who played here for the Double-A Barons, said, “It feels like the memories are coming alive.”

“But I think there are bigger things happening here,” he continued. “There's a bigger message that needs to be conveyed. A small part of me enjoys that. But a larger part of me also understands the historical monument of this ballpark. …

“Things happened on this stadium that folks have to find out about. They have to know where Willie got here from. Because he left a legacy on the sport that goes way beyond the sport.

“You have a guy who was, without a doubt, the easiest ballot to vote into the Hall of Fame, and if you talk to him in the locker room, he never mentions a single word about his career,” Yastrzemski continued. “He would never talk about how many home runs he hit (660), how many pike catches he made (too many to count), how many games he saved (at least one in the World Series). Unless you provoked him, he would talk about your career. How you can get better. What you can do to impact your community. That's the message that needs to be conveyed here, that this is the stadium that this legend came out of.”


Yastrzemski left the sport within the fourth inning after one at-bat – he hit a single to right and scored on Ramos' three-run home run to the alternative field within the third inning – as a consequence of a tightness issue in his left side, the Giants announced.

Facing his former team for the primary time, Brandon Crawford did something he had never done in 1,631 previous major league games. The 37-year-old, 14-year veteran was named to the Cardinals' starting lineup by manager Oli Marmol — at third base, the primary time Crawford played a defensive position aside from shortstop (apart from his transient appearance on the mound at the tip of last season, after all).

Crawford went 0 for 1 and reached base on a walk, but was intercepted by Randy Rodríguez at second base before being replaced by a pinch hitter within the sixth inning.


The Giants fly to St. Louis for a day without work before concluding their two-game series against the Cardinals at Busch Stadium.

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