Willie and the Kids
Willie Mays has been holding court in the Giants clubhouse for the better part of a week, telling stories and haranguing the players in his distinctive high-pitched voice and colorful language. With his eyeglasses perched across his forehead and a Giants cap high on his head, he sits at a round table just inside the clubhouse door with his right-hand man, Peewee, and a rotating parade of players and reporters and clubhouse guys filling the other seats.
After purposely butchering the pronunciation of Ishikawa’s name and skewering him for not really being Japanese since he was born in the U.S., Mays recalled hitting 18 home runs in one minute in a home run derby in Japan. Among other prizes, he won a Kobe steer.
“What’d you do with him?” Ishikawa asked.
“I sold him!” he said. “I wasn’t gonna bring that sumbitch back with me!”
Ishikawa’s locker is next to the table where Mays sits, as are Fred Lewis’s and Manny Burriss’. All three young players found reasons to be glued to their lockers whenever Mays was around, and they kept up a steady banter. Mays showed Lewis how to grip the ball a little differently to keep throws from tailing off.
One day, Lewis decided to push his luck.
“So, Willie, when are you going to take me to dinner?” he asked.
“Take you? You should be taking me! What are you gonna cook?”
“Some pig leg soup,” Lewis said.
“How’d you cook that?”
“Pot of water, some pig legs, salt and pepper and let it boil.”
Mays winced. “Why don’t you come to my house? I have some pies.”
Burriss, delighted by the whole exchange – and with a clubhouse reputation for consuming more food than a man twice his size — jumped in.
“That’s the magic word! I’m coming!”
Before Mays could change his mind Lewis said, “How about Saturday?”
Ishikawa was invited, too.
The three players set out after the Rockies game Saturday to Mays’ Scottsdale house, after a detour at Lewis’s home to pick up his camera.
This morning, when Burris arrived in the clubhouse, I asked how it went. “Amazing,” he said.
And the food? Steak and chicken and six different pies, he said.
“Are you talking about food again?’ Rich Aurilia said as he walked by.
“I had a piece of three of them,” Burriss said. Apple, potato and oatmeal. (And, no, he had never heard of oatmeal pie, either.)
Maybe Lewis will share a photo. If so, I’ll post it along with his and Ishikawa’s highlights of the night.
Before heading out to Mays’ house on Saturday, Burriss and Lewis met with about 50 Giants fans as part of the team’s “Giants Vacations” package. As the fans ate barbeque in the pavilion beyond left field, Duane Kuiper presided over a panel of the two players plus special guest Will Clark. Some snippets:
· On what it was like to put a Giants uniform on again, Clark said, “It’s like being back with your family.”
· On the Dodgers being the team for the Giants to watch out for in the NL West, Burriss said, “If we do the things we’re capable of doing, the Dodgers should watch out for us.” To which Clark added, “Every time I see that Dodger uniform, I want to grab a bat.”
· Clark on working with Ishikawa: “He’s a great first-baseman. We’re working on the mental game, knowing where the ball is going to go almost before it’s hit. ‘OK, it’s a breaking ball, it’s going to be down the line.’ ” In fact, Burriss said he whispered to Ishikawa during yesterday’s game that the signal was for a breaking ball, whereupon Ishikawa cheated toward first base and made a spectacular snag of a bullet down the line.
· Asked by a little girl if they ever get tired: “According to the rookie code, I can never say I’m tired. So the answer is no – until I’m Fred’s age.”
Also on Saturday night: Across town from Mays’ house, Barry Zito was hosting his own special dinner. I’ll tell you about in my next post.