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Fans gather at Oracle Park to pay tribute to Willie Mays

Baseball fans gather at Oracle Park to pay tribute to Willie Mays
Baseball fans gather at Oracle Park to pay tribute to Willie Mays 06:59

The Willie Mays statue outside of Oracle Park is now providing a space for people to grieve, gather, and remember the Giants legend.

Just hours after Willie Mays died on Tuesday, fans immediately began to pay tribute to the Hall of Famer by decorating the statue with flowers.

He first played in the Negro American League for the Birmingham Black Barons before signing with the New York Giants in 1950 at the age of 19 - just three years after Major League Baseball was integrated.  

"Just the greatest Giant of all time," said Mays fan James Fitzgerald. "Just the greatest Giant of all time."

Fitzgerald traveled to San Francisco from Santa Rosa to say goodbye to Mays. He said it's only fitting to pay his respects in person after Mays gave him one of his most memorable elevator rides of his life.

"Goose bumps all over," Fitzgerald said, remembering the chance meeting.

Back in 2010, he was riding an elevator at Oracle Park and realized he was sharing the space with an icon.

"I looked over at him and said 'Hey, Mr. Mays, how are you doing?', and shook his hand and he said, 'Hey kid, nice to meet you!"

Nathan Naze has lived in both New York and San Francisco, the two major cities Mays played in, now he's passing down the love of baseball to his 3-year-old son, Teddy.

"He doesn't quite get the gravity of it but part of it is bringing him here just so we can have a photo in a couple of years so we can tell him that story," Naze explained.

Naze wants to teach his son all about Mays' legacy once he's old enough to understand. He regards Mays as one of the greatest baseball players in history, not just because of stats, but because of his cultural influence.

Fitzgerald said he has no doubt that a hundred years from now, people will still be talking about Willie Mays.

"Never be forgotten," said Fitzgerald. "Forever be missed."

The giants are opening Oracle Park Thursday for fans to honor Willie Mays and pay tribute to the Negro leagues. The Negro Leagues commemorative game between the Giants and the St. Louis Cardinals at Rickwood Field in Birmingham, Alabama will be televised on the scoreboard.

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