By Mike Kinney
Willie Mays is a baseball legend, but in Richmond he’s also known for his legendary community service benefitting local youth. It’s the reason the newly renovated Nicholl Park baseball diamonds have been renamed “Willie Mays Junior Giants Fields,” and why a monument to “The Say Hey Kid” was enshrined at those fields today on what the city officially recognized as “Willie Mays Day.”
Michael Mays, son of the Hall of Famer, joined city leaders, Giants reps and other dignitaries in a ceremony honoring Mays’ contributions to the Richmond community in a permanent way. Mays, who recently turned 91, could not attend for health reasons.
Today’s events kicked off with a parade from the Civic Center parking lot to Nicholl Park for the field dedication. The City of Richmond enshrined Mays’ legacy on its Walk of Honor with the installation of a kiosk to acknowledge his impact and contributions to the city. Mays is the first recipient to receive this honor. A Junior Giants scrimmage followed the ceremony.
Also celebrated was the renovation of the Nicholl Park baseball diamonds via the Peter A. Magowan Fields for Kids program.
During today’s festivities, Richmond Mayor Tom Butt handed Michael Mays the Key to the City of Richmond.
“The City of Richmond owes so much to Willie’s generosity with his dedication to Richmond’s March of Dimes campaigns during the sixties and seventies,” Mayor Butt said. “He graciously encouraged his friends to join him for sandlot games at Nicholl Park to bring attention to his fundraising efforts for our children. ‘Willie Mays Day’ is our endeavor to repay him for a lifetime of integrity and kindness.”
Joining Mayor Butt in attendance today was Giants president and CEO Larry Baer, along with Brian Murphy, Giants Community Fund board of directors co-chair and KNBR Radio host, and forever Giant Mike “Tiny” Felder.
Baer called the honor bestowed upon Mays in Richmond “so fitting.”
“By enshrining his legacy on their Walk of Honor, all who visit this park can learn about Willie’s amazing career,” the Giants president said. “Here, thousands of kids for generations to come, will play the game he so loved and who knows, might just grow up to be a ‘Say Hey’ kid themselves.”
For now, local kids will get to play on newly renovated fields. As part of the Peter A. Magowan Fields for Kids program, which is named in honor of the former Giants president and managing general partner, the Giants Community Fund, City of Richmond and Good Tidings Foundation parntered to restore the three fields at Nicholl Park.
“The Good Tidings Foundation has been committed to providing the Richmond community with safe environments to play baseball since the Nicholl Park fields were built back in 2006 with Armando Benitez,” said Good Tidings Founder Larry Harper. “The children and families of Richmond now have new bases, pitching mounds, improved irrigation systems and the same infield mix that the Giants play on at Oracle Park. We hope the field renovations inspire the next generation of ballplayers to chase their dreams of becoming the next Willie Mays.”