Like the rest of my family and almost everyone else who knew me when I was a kid, my father called me Sam. Unlike everyone else though, my father only called me Sam around other people. When there was no one around he called me Willie, a shortened version of my real name.
My dad never told me why he called me Willie. He probably just liked the way it sounded, but from the day he told me about Willie Mays I hoped that he called me that in honor of the man he called the best baseball player he ever saw.
Regardless of why he did it, calling me Willie just became one of our things. I was Sam most of the time but when it was just the two of us at home or he was telling me something in confidence he called me Willie. It became shorthand for: “This is just between us” or “can you drive?” He called me Willie when he would tell me about things he wanted to do like get to more major league baseball stadiums. A few years ago he started to make that happen when Nina’s father took him to Wrigley Field. He emailed me a bunch of pictures but the only caption said “Willie, you gotta see this place.”
Now that my father has passed away I do not expect that anyone outside of maybe my brother will call me Willie again and I’m okay with that. For the first six weeks after he passed away I did not think of the name Willie at all, but last week I was in San Francisco within walking distance of AT&T Park where the Giants play.
There was no reason for me to be going to see a baseball stadium on the last day of November. But when I remembered that there was a statue of Willie Mays at the entrance of AT&T Park it became obvious that I had to go.
Willie Mays may have been the best to ever put on a uniform, but in the 1973 World Series, while playing for the Mets, he fell down while trying to make a play in the outfield. Willie was 42 years old and the oldest position player in the big leagues that year. Mays blamed his fall on the glare from the sun but he later had a more telling comment on the incident when he said; “growing old is just a helpless hurt.”
This happened the year before I was born but when I asked my father about it he had nothing to say except that it didn’t matter. As I walked along the waterfront on the way to the stadium I thought about the fact that at the end of his life my father didn’t tell me that he was sick. For weeks I’d been unable to find peace with his decision but as I said a quiet prayer for my father at the statue of Willie Mays it made perfect sense.
I went back the next day with Nina and she took this picture.