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‘An American icon’: Willie Mays fans create memorial outside Giants stadium

A statue of a baseball player is surrounded by colorful wrapped poles and flowers. A man wearing a baseball jersey is adjusting a floral display at the statue's base.
A fan pays their respects to Willie Mays at the statue erected in his honor outside Oracle Park on Wednesday. | Source: Jason Henry for The Standard

San Francisco Giants fans showed up en masse at Oracle Park’s Willie Mays Plaza on Wednesday morning to pay respects to baseball legend Willie Mays, who died on Tuesday at 93. 

Dozens of bouquets were laid at the feet of a statue of Mays, who played with the Giants for 22 seasons in New York and then San Francisco, where he proved himself the ultimate five-tool player. Over the course of an hour, around 100 people clad in orange and black cycled through the plaza, some with loved ones and others solo. 

“I find it particularly apropos that, as we remember the very important legacy of Juneteenth, we also pay tribute to this gentleman who, in many ways, broke a lot of barriers,” said Omar Moore, sporting an authentic 1951 Willie Mays New York Giants jersey. “[He] played the Negro Leagues and really transcended the sport. He was a Black cultural icon, an American icon, someone who was just very significant to this country.”

The image shows a memorial with various flower bouquets, a white baseball cap, a baseball, and a figurine of a baseball player. The flowers are vibrant and colorful.
Fans paid their respect to Willie Mays in the Willie Mays Plaza outside Oracle Park, leaving bouquets and memorabilia. | Source: Jason Henry for The Standard
A man in a "New York" baseball jersey stands in front of a Willie Howard Mays Jr. statue adorned with colorful flowers. The backdrop includes modern buildings and wrapped palm trees.
Omar Moore, wearing a Willie Mays jersey when he was a New York Giant paid his respects to Willie Mays Plaza outside Oracle Park on Wednesday. | Source: Jason Henry for The Standard

Moore’s love of the Giants started in New York in the 1990s. Not feeling charmed by the Yankees or the Mets, he dove headlong into the rich history of the San Francisco Giants, spending hours in libraries across Manhattan reading up on the team’s history and its crown jewel, Mays. He even made several tips to the city for games.

As the crowd traded stories about No. 24, Eileen Bissen wiped away tears and set down a bouquet of orange roses at the pedestal of Mays’ statue. 

Bissen grew up going to Giants games with her dad, Larry, who saw the team’s first game at Seals Stadium in 1958. Her father, who passed two years ago, would take her to games as a kid and tell her about the times he had seen Mays, the “Say Hey Kid,” knock out home runs.

A blonde woman wearing sunglasses and a black San Francisco Giants jacket appears to be crying, with her hand up to her mouth, set against a blurred cityscape background.
Eileen Bissen wept as she held orange roses at the statue of Willie Mays in Willie Mays Plaza outside Oracle Park on Wednesday. | Source: Jason Henry for The Standard

“When I heard the news yesterday, my first thought before anything was, ‘My dad gets to meet Willie Mays in heaven,’” she said. “It just felt right to come here and pay tribute. It’s so much more than a game, it’s what binds us.”

Dressed head to toe in orange and black Giants gear, 23-year-old Max Callan sat on the corner of Third and King streets, gripping his 1961 Willie Mays baseball card and a copy of “24: Life Stories and Lessons from the Say Hey Kid,” a book co-authored by Mays. Callan has close to a dozen Willie Mays cards from the 1960s. Callan said Mays’ death is a reminder that baseball is more than a game: it unites generations and forms lifelong memories.

“I went to the de Young Museum yesterday wearing my Willie Mays shirt and talked to a security guard for 10 minutes about Willie Mays. We had no idea that a couple hours later, it would be a reflective conversation.”

A hand is holding a book titled "24: Life Stories and Lessons from the Say Hey Kid" by Willie Mays and John Shea, along with a plastic-encased baseball card of Willie Mays.
Max Callan holds a 1961 Tops Willie Mays card and a book he brought to leave at the statue of Willie Mays outside Oracle Park as a tribute to his career. | Source: Jason Henry for The Standard
The image shows Oracle Park featuring tributes to Willie Mays, with large banners and signs, including his photo and the message "Forever Giant, 1931-2024."
A memorial for the late Willie Mays was shown on the Jumbotron at Oracle Park on Wednesday. | Source: Jason Henry for The Standard

Many visiting fans said they were devastated and shocked by the news of Mays’ death, adding that they were looking forward to seeing the Giants alumnus attend Thursday’s game against the St. Louis Cardinals.

Tommy Hampton moved to Oakland from the South in 1958, the same year the Giants came to Seals Stadium. At 12 years old, he got a transistor radio and listened to game after game as Mays made his historic run in San Francisco. “From then on, I got hooked on Willie Mays,” he said. “He was like family, he was like a friend, he was my childhood hero—the reason I like baseball.”

Juneteenth holiday, which commemorates the end of slavery in the U.S., allowed Giants fans across the Bay Area to easily come to the city and pay their respects.

A person in a red shirt is holding two illustrated cards featuring a baseball player with a bat, set against a blue, abstract background.
Bradley Skaught with postcards at the statue in Willie Mays Plaza outside Oracle Park on Wednesday. | Source: Jason Henry for The Standard
A man wearing a black cap and sweater signs a guestbook on a small table. The table holds a framed photo of a smiling older man, alongside a bouquet of white flowers.
Andre Gaxiola, a season ticket holder from San Jose, signed a book at the Willie Mays pop-up exhibit near Oracle Park on Wednesday. | Source: Jason Henry for The Standard

Steve Bartlinski, who came up from San Jose, said he was watching the Giants play the Chicago Cubs on Tuesday when the news was announced by the sportscasters. “I was in shock a little bit,” Bartlinski said. Raised in Pennsylvania amid a family of diehard Phillies supporters, he always rooted for the Giants and remembers watching them duke it out against the Oakland Athletics in the 1989 World Series when the Loma Prieta earthquake struck.

The Giants will welcome fans to pay tribute to Mays and his career in both the Major League Baseball and the Negro Leagues on Thursday. Gates at Oracle Park will open at noon and the event is free.