|Say Hey watching out for his godson as Bonds tries to break Hank Aaron's record|
|Written by Admin|
|Tuesday, 07 August 2007 16:43|
Hot dog in hand, Barry Bonds strolled in and declared the interview over.
``Locker room is closed,'' Bonds said between bites of the mustard-slathered dog. ``Say Hey, let's go. We've got to have our talk.''
Game time was only an hour away, but Bonds was in a playful mood. He had good reason to be.
The night before he had gone 0-3 and looked bad against a rookie pitcher. But much of the pressure of his chase of the all-time home run record vanished a few days earlier when he hit No. 755 to tie Hank Aaron.
Now he had six games left before friendly fans at home to break one of the greatest records in sports. Even better, he had his godfather to share it with.
Mays noticed the difference.
``He was more relaxed yesterday than three weeks ago,'' he said.
T Park. He may never be universally loved as is the man who defined baseball in the Bay Area for the best part of two decades.
But on this night more than 43,000 people would fill the park once again to watch their latest hero, who was only one big swing away from one huge record. They would stand and cheer Bonds just like they stood and cheered every time No. 24 strolled to the plate during his tremendous career.
Mays couldn't have imagined it when the 5-year-old son of his teammate used to hang around his locker and talk baseball with him.
``Nah. I visualized him playing sports at a high level,'' Mays said. ``He was 5 when he was in my locker all the time.''
Bobby Bonds died four years ago at the age of 57, but not before asking Mays to keep an eye out for his son and make sure he tried to do the right thing.
It hasn't always worked out that way, of course, with Bonds getting involved in the BALCO scandal and having an ex-mistress who will not only tell all to Playboy later this year, but also bare all.
But it's clear Mays takes his responsibilities seriously. And the fondness between the two men is not forced.
``We talk. It depends what he's asking me,'' Mays said. ``If you want to buy the car, buy the car. Talking means I have to listen and let him talk.''
Mays seems proud that his godson will become the greatest slugger of all time. But he's also proud of his own accomplishments, including the 660 home runs that rank him fourth on the all-time list, behind only Bonds, Aaron and Babe Ruth.
It could have been more, he quickly pointed out, but for the two years he spent in the Army during the early part of his career.
``Not bragging by any means, but maybe 80,'' Mays said. ``I was young. Probably 35-40 a year. In the 90-game schedule in the service, I hit 45 each year.''
To many, Mays remains the greatest player to ever put on a Giants uniform. In Los Angeles the other day, the great broadcaster Vin Scully echoed the opinion of a lot of others who said Mays was the greatest baseball player he's ever seen.
He's 76 now, with massive arms and fingers that still look like they could send a ball out of the park. He keeps a full schedule of appearances, and was honored at the recent All-Star game at a ballpark you can find in the phone book with the address 24 Willie Mays Plaza.
He understands like no one else close to his godson what he's been going through, because he's gone through it before. In 1966, it took him a week and a half to pass Mel Ott with his 512th home run to break Ott's franchise record with the Giants.
Even great home run hitters can't hit home runs on command.
``You can't hit the ball when you want to hit a home run,'' Mays said. ``It's not easy. It's difficult. It's a hard job, man, I'm saying, to hit a home run when you want to hit it.''
Does one of the greatest hitters in the history of the game know why that is?
``Don't ask me. I have no idea.''
Mays said he tried to go to San Diego on Sunday, thinking Bonds might play or pinch hit and set the record. But plane trouble kept him grounded in Los Angeles.
So now he sits in the office of longtime equipment manager Mike Murphy, where he will likely spend a few innings before going to a suite upstairs. He figures even watching from above, he can make it down to the field in three minutes, quick enough to be in on the celebration.
More than anything, he would just like it to be over.
``Hit it, get it over with so I can relax,'' Mays said. ``It's making me nervous.''
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlbergap.org