SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -Willie Mays nodded to Barry Bonds, handed his jacket to Ken Griffey Jr. and hopped in the back of a pink Cadillac, riding away from two cheering columns of stars while a sellout San Francisco crowd roared for its original baseball hero.
Not a bad start to the All-Star game - and quite a memorable moment both for Mays and the players who still feel his influence three decades after the superlative outfielder's career ended.
The Giants and the sport honored Mays on Tuesday night during a brief but dramatic appearance at the club's waterfront ballpark, where a statue of the outfielder greets hundreds of tourists and fans every day at 24 Willie Mays Plaza.
``This is a great honor,'' Mays said. ``There have been so many great All-Star games. I think the Giants really went all out.''
The latest showcase for baseball's living heroes at its big midseason event was another resounding hit, from Mays' entrance through the center-field fence to his departing lap around the field, tossing baseballs to fans from the back of a 1958 Eldorado.
Perhaps the event didn't pack the visceral impact of Ted Williams' return to Fenway Park before the 1999 All-Star game, but that's only because Mays still spends plenty of time around the Giants, both at spring training and in the Bay Area.
And the 76-year-old Mays also is quite comfortable at All-Star games. He appeared in 24 - one of his few records that hasn't been surpassed by Bonds, his godson and successor as the soul of the Giants franchise.
``I don't think it's about Barry or myself,'' Mays said. ``It's about the city of San Francisco. I was glad to be someone picked to be the representative of San Francisco.''
Williams even said the All-Star game was invented for Mays - and after watching the tribute, few current players would argue. Griffey called the experience ``awesome.''
``In '99 in Boston, and now with this one, I've been fortunate to ... be there when cities celebrate two of the greatest players that ever played this game,'' Griffey said. ``Just being on the field with him when he came through was like - what's it, Kevin Costner? If you build it, they will come? It seemed like that.''
Indeed, it was a ``Field of Dreams'' moment for every player, including MVP Ichiro Suzuki.
``To be able to be on the same field that he was at that moment is something I'll never forget for the rest of my life,'' the Seattle star said through an interpreter. ``I know this is something that's impossible, but I wish I was able to watch Mr. Mays play once.''
After pregame introductions, both squads of All-Stars made their way to center field while highlights from Mays' career played on the giant video board. Mays entered the field through the outfield fence, wearing a Giants cap and a jacket with his No. 24 on the back.
Mays said he had never been in center field in the Giants' stadium, which opened in 2000 - and one of the most sublime fielders in baseball history hadn't been on any major league outfield grass since San Francisco's last season in Candlestick Park in 1999.
``I would love to hit in this ballpark,'' Mays said.
Mays waved as he walked between two rows of clapping All-Stars. He then made a ceremonial first throw from center field, his old stomping grounds - but only after ordering his receiver, the Mets' Jose Reyes, to back up a few feet before he let it fly.
When Mays' car got behind home plate, the batting screen knocked down three of his baseball tosses, but he finished strong with several throws up the first-base line.
``I thought it was going to hurt, but I didn't have time for pain,'' Mays said. ``Tomorrow, my arm will probably be a little sore.''
The Bay Area fans who unconditionally worship Bonds have the same love for Mays, who hit 660 homers and earned first-ballot election to the Hall of Fame. After beginning his career in New York, Mays moved to San Francisco with the Giants in 1958, eventually playing parts of 15 seasons in the city.
When Mays got out of the car in a service area behind the left-field fence, just a few fans milled around - but a young woman rushed up to Mays and said: ``Can I shake your hand? I love you! You looked good out there.''
A few fans even leaned over the top railing of the outfield bleachers for an impromptu chant of ``Willie! Willie!'' Mays acknowledged them with a wave of his hand.
``The fans in (San Francisco) are great,'' Mays said. ``Always great to me.''

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