Say hello – Riverbank News

Every baseball fan, or sports fan, has had the conversation, “Who is the greatest baseball player of all time?” People will always throw out names like Babe Ruth, Barry Bonds, Ty Cobb and even Shohei Ohtani’s name pops up. However, the one name most people will say when making a list is Willie Mays.

I’m under 40, so I’ve never seen Mays play. However, I have studied a lot of Mays footage and have become a huge fan of him and his contributions to the game I love. I’ll never forget asking my dad who he thought was the best baseball player. It was the spring of 2004. My father and I were watching the Giants game together. He turned down the television and asked me to sit next to him. When I sat down, he looked me in the eyes and said; “Son, the greatest baseball player of all time is Hank Aaron; but make no mistake: the most talented player of all time is Willie Mays.” Those words stuck with me and as I type this, I’m getting misty-eyed. That’s the power of baseball. It connects us all on a level that unites us.

Later that summer, the Chevron gas station came out with a row of baseballs. It was called “Giants Legends of the Game”. There were eight balls in total and they were bronze colored with black laces and had black and white images of the players. The players included Mays, Orlando Cepeda and Willie McCovey, to name a few. My father bought the collection for me, which I still have to this day. I display them proudly in my gym and my eight-year-old son asked me about them a few months ago. He asked me, “Why do they look like that?” and “Who are those guys?” I gave him the backstory on the unusual baseballs and I also gave him a brief history on the players.

We caught up on Willie Mays highlights and even my son realized how special of a player he was. My son, who plays baseball for the Oakdale Baseball Softball Association, said; “Wow, the way he catches the ball is crazy!” I paused the video and it took me back to the day my dad told me about Mays and how he believed he was the most talented player ever. I told my son that story. He replied, “Well, Dad was a smart boy. He knew what he was talking about.”

Willie Mays passed away on June 18, 2024. The baseball world is currently in mourning, the community and family of the San Francisco Giants are in mourning. Even people who don’t follow baseball know who Willie Mays is. He made a huge impact in the game both on and off the field. We will always remember number 24.

The age-old debate over who is the greatest player of all time will continue. But for me the conversation is about who is the most talented player; will forever be Willie Mays.

Dennis D. Cruz is a staff reporter for The Oakdale Leader, The Riverbank News and The Escalon Times. He can be reached at [email protected] or by calling 847-3021.