It was a youth meeting in the basement of the Kenmore Baptist Church. I was a boy, and the pastor said, “Who is your hero?” I said, “Willie Mays.” Then an older girl said, “Jesus,” and that was, of course, the correct answer.
But I stuck with Willie, and one of my special treasures was a 1956 Willie Mays baseball card in a collection with other New York Giants. I kept the cards in a cupboard in my bedroom, with an autographed photo of George “The Hound” Lorenz (“To Kim, one cool cat”) (thank you, Arnie) and a signed photo of actress Hermione Gingold, the aunt of a classmate (thank you, Enid).
When I went off to college, my mother cleaned out the cupboard and all of those treasures went away. I have missed them, and not the least because the Willie Mays card is today worth $100. Last month, remembering Wes Westrum and Ruben Gomez and Dusty Rhodes who hit a pinch-hit homerun in the 1954 World Series, I thought, “eBay.” I could not afford the Mays card, but there was a reprint, and all the others were within reach.
And now they are mine. At this point in life, I should be letting go of things, but having these again is such a good feeling.
Willie Mays was my favorite player, too. When I was a child walking the sidewalks of NYC with my parents, I thought every Black person I passed was Willie Mays. When the Giants played their last game at the Polo Grounds and moved to San Francisco, I cried. I listened to recreations of Giants games on the radio in bed on my transistor radio until I fell asleep. I no longer have my baseball cards, but if I did, I would gladly send them to you.