The day I met the Say Hey Kid

Photo taken at the lobby of the Otesaga Hotel in Cooperstown. Also in the photo Roberto Clemente Jr.

I had the opportunity to meet Willie Mays in July 2006, during the induction ceremony of 17 Negro Leagues players and executives in Cooperstown. I was extremely interested in attending the event because Willard Brown and Raymond Brown, two outstanding figures of the Puerto Rico Professional Baseball League, were going to be inducted.

At the end of the activities, I went to the Otesaga Hotel in Cooperstown, where the hotheads and their families were staying. I bumped into Roberto Clemente Jr. in the hotel lobby, who notified me that Willie Mays would be coming down from his room soon, as he would be leaving to the airport soon.

I wanted to say hello to Mays, since the previous month I had interviewed him over the phone for my book on Pedrín Zorrilla. It was a pleasant conversation in which he treated me very well. We talked about baseball and then other topics.

When Mays entered the lobby, he paralyzed the environment. Everyone watched him, but kept their distance. Roberto Jr. greeted him enthusiastically, as he had known him for years.  I remember him telling Willie, «There’s no baseball activity in Puerto Rico this year.» Willie replied quickly: «If Pedrín were alive, that would not happen.» The friendship between Mays and Pedrín was solid; he was always grateful for Pedrín’s treatment and how pleasant he had in Puerto Rico while playing with the Cangrejeros de Santurce.

At that moment, I approached, extended my hand, and introduced myself. He remembered me, however, we could not articulate meaningful communication, since the vehicle that wiould take him to the airport had arrived and was waiting for him.

Almost eighteen years later, I think how fortunate I have been to meet many players I followed as a child and teenager.  I feel grateful for so many good experiences in baseball, one of them, having met the great Willie Mays.

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