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Public celebration of life of Willie Mays draws thousands to Oracle Park

San Francisco Giants fans honor Willie Mays at public memorial
San Francisco Giants fans honor Willie Mays at public memorial 03:13

Hundreds of San Francisco Giants fans gathered at Oracle Park on Monday afternoon for a public celebration dedicated to the late baseball legend Willie Mays.

Mays, who died on June 18 at 93, began his career in the Negro Leagues and went on to compile a record of 3,293 hits, 660 career home runs and 12 Gold Gloves in center field.

Mays received final military honors for his time served in the U.S. Army during a special presentation of an American flag to son Michael and taps was sounded at the public memorial.

The Hall of Fame "Say Hey Kid" hit 660 career home runs despite spending 1952-54 in the Army during the Korean War.  

Baseball dignitaries past and present, including godson and home run king Barry Bonds, sat on the field for remembrances and video highlights going back to Mays' stickball days in the streets outside New York's Polo Grounds. 

Among the other attendees were former President Bill Clinton, former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown -- who spoke at the celebration -- Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred, executive and former manager and player Joe Torre, Hall of Famers Dennis Eckersley, Rickey Henderson, Reggie Jackson and Juan Marichal, retired managers Dusty Baker and Felipe Alou, former Giants owner Bob Lurie and San Francisco Mayor London Breed.

Stadium gates opened at 3 p.m. for in-person attendance. Admission to the event was free, the Giants said on their website. The program began at 4 p.m. and lasted about two hours. 

With a large 24 cutout representing his jersey number elevated on the infield dirt between first and second base in the San Francisco Giants' waterfront ballpark, Bonds sat in the front row down the third-base line.

Broadcaster Jon Miller, who was the master of ceremonies, also took a moment to mention a remembrance of late Hall of Famer Orlando Cepeda, who died 10 days after Mays on June 28, among other Hall of Famers who are gone.

Clinton, who was born in Arkansas and loved the Cardinals growing up, recalled his joy in listening to games on the radio as a kid.

"I lived for the games I could hear on the radio," Clinton said. "I never got to see 'The Catch,' I just heard it on the radio. We didn't get a television until I was 10 but I can still remember just sitting there soaking up the Dodgers, soaking up the Yankees and living for the Giants so I could watch Willie Mays."

The Rev. Bill Greason, a former teammate and longtime friend of Mays, offered a recorded prayer shown on the main centerfield scoreboard.

Manfred credited Mays for transforming San Francisco into a baseball town, "and it stays a baseball town today."

"There's never been a better representative of baseball's magic than Willie Mays. He dominated the game in every way," Manfred said. "He didn't merely play, he captured imaginations. He never allowed his meticulous preparation to prevent him from showing the joy that the game brought him. He inspired generations of players and fans."

Approximately 3,400 fans were in the stands and 4,500 people total, the Giants said.

One fan traveled from Washington to attend.

"I'm down here from Seattle to see all of this, to pay tribute to him and enjoy this tribute that all these people are giving to this man," said Karl Colton. He mentioned that this tribute is extremely special for him because he met Willie 20 years ago. He hopes that younger generations will continue to learn about the legendary player. 

"Unfortunately, sometimes people get recognized when they die or when they get sick, and I think that especially young kids are able to see footage of him, how gifted he was," Colton added.

Susan Lalao traveled from San Jose to pay her respects to her favorite player of all time. She has been a Giants fan since the 70s. 

"When my son was little, we always went to the games, and we would always see Willie in the elevator, so it was a special time," Lalao added.

Lalao said it hurts to see him gone, but the memories are fresh in her mind. 

"You always think in the back of your head that they're gonna live forever," she reflected.

For those wishing to offer their condolences, fans can visit to post their tribute digitally or send letters to the Mays Family in care of the San Francisco Giants, Attention: Forever 24, 24 Willie Mays Plaza, San Francisco, CA 94107. 

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