Thinking about the Say Hey Kid
When you come to San Francisco, you’re in Willie Mays country. This is his turf. You go by the statue of him outside AT&T Park, and it really hits home. This is where he played some of his greatest baseball, one of the all-time best.
It’s almost like he invented the position I play. He was the master of center field, no quesiton about it.It’s his position, and I’m honored to follow in his footsteps.
I had the good fortune to meet him once. It was at the 2007 All-Star Game here. He was The Man that day, walking out on the red carpet, getting that great ovation from the people. It was emotional for everybody. Seeing Willie Mays walk on that field, a tear in his eye, that really got to me. He is loved here, that’s for sure.
When we all huddled around him on the field before the game that day, I shook his hand. He had a tear in his eye, and I remember how thrilled I was when he told me that he liked the way I play the game. I can’t tell you how much that meant to me, coming from where I did in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, a football player who became a baseball player. Hearing the great Willie Mays tell me that, it blew me away.
All I could think of watching him that day was the film of that classic catch he made in the 1954 World Series, his back to the infield, whirling and making that throw. He was known as the “Say Hey Kid” when he was young, and he played center field the way I’ve always wanted to play it, dreamed of playing it. He threw his whole body and soul into the game. I think that’s why he’s always been so admired — that attitude he brought to the game along with his incredible tools.
People always focus on a guy’s power, his offense, but Willie could beat you running the bases, making great catches and throws, doing it all. He had amazing instincts. When you have a five-tool guy like that, you don’t let him go. You keep him, work with him, help him grow into the player he can be.
I just wish I could have seen him play live. Everybody I’ve talked to who saw him says he was the best, that the brought so much energy and passion to the game that it had an impact on everybody. That’s what I try to do, play the game aggressively, without fear of failure. A young guy like Sean Rodriguez comes up and sees the way I play, hopefully that shows him that you should play aggressively, go first to third, not worry about making a mistake. You have to be bold and believe in yourself to succeed in this game.
I got to know Preston Gomez after I signed with the Angels, and he’s someone we all miss, like Nick Adenhart. Preston was in the game for about 60 years, and he always said Willie Mays was the greatest player of them all.
One of the best compliments I’ve gotten was when Preston told Lyle Spencer of MLB.com, just before he had that accident after leaving Spring Training in 2008, that I reminded him of Willie Mays in some ways. He told Lyle that it was not just the way I played center field and hit with power and ran the bases, but the way I work at my game, trying always to get better. I’m learning new things all the time, and I think I’m better now than I’ve ever been, because of the knowledge I’ve been able to pick up and apply to my game.
One thing Preston told Lyle that I especially appreciate is that I have a positive impact on my teammates. He said I was one of the best leaders, and it would show in the work ethic of my teammates. If that is the case, it’s something I’m tremendously proud of, because nothing is more important to me than playing the game right and being an example for the younger guys coming up.
When you think about it, being compared to Willie Mays in any way is an honor. Coming from a great and respected baseball man like Preston Gomez, that is something I’ll always cherish.
Willie was one of the greatest to ever play the game… although I’m sure some of your catches… along with a couple by Jim Edmonds’ would be on a highlight reel right along with the Say Hey Kid…
One day Torii, the next generation will be writing similar articles about you. I’m sure you make Willie proud!
i hope someday you became a giant you would look good in the uniform just were the number 34 instead of 24 that number is already taken lol!!!
Torii, I am a Twins fan who watched you develop as a player. We in Minnesota sure do miss you!! I also spent my early childhood in the Bay Area, and I attended my first baseball games at Candlestick Park when Mays and McCovey were the Giants’ stars. You definitely are this generation’s Willie Mays. And let’s not forget Kirby Puckett in that lineage. All three of you play(ed) with joy and without fear, as baseball should be played.
Willie Mays was one of the greatest. It must have been a great feeling playing where Willie once did.
Preston, Nick, Gabby. . .in times like these, we could all use a little boost. Thanks Torii, for taking on the mantle with grace and humility. Hope your ribs are feeling better. Willie, Hank, Jackie, Joe (Black). We honor their lives by doing our best to make things happen, inside and outside of baseball. . .BeesGal
man glad to see you’re alright! You hit the wall pretty hard there it was 8-0 too! You didn’t have to do that but the fact that you did try your best is so admiring. You give it your all and I think that is what Mr Gomez saw in you to compare you with Mr Mays. Anyways best of luck (y’all are on a roll alright! winning streaks are fun huh?)
much love and support
I grew up watching Willie Mays…he was my hero. I collected all his
baseball cards and pictures. The man was the most dynamic player of his
time. I can only imagine what it must be like playing on a big league
field (in what used to be called Candlestick Park) on his home turf. I
only saw him play live once (when the Giants were in town for the Dodgers) but
it was an experience. He hit two homers that day…I almost caught
one…it was literally taken away from me by an guy who was twice my size…I
was 9. I’d kill to have that ball now.
Growing up I always remember my Dad talking about the GREAT ball players and Mays was definetly one in the group. I can only imagine the thrill that you felt while standing very near one of your idols. And, for you to want to be one of the GREATS is more than anyone can ask for. As I see you in the dugout before a game I see you as the CHEERLEADER and I see all of your other team mates wanting to receive and give the same kind of leadership. You are in my book a GREAT player and I love and can very clearly see your hard work and effort. Stay healthy and have the best season ever.
In your post you stated “I think that’s why he’s always been so admired — that attitude he brought to the game along with his incredible tools.”— Torii, you bring the same attitude and skill to the game that Willie did back then, that’s why you are so admired in the game today. And this is coming from one of your arch-rival Dodger fans. I, too, was sitting on the edge of my seat when you were lying in the warning track in SF holding your ribcage. Glad to see you are none the worse for the wear! Keep up the good work. We will all be watching with big smiles on our faces.
Torii, Are you going to post any more episodes of “Hanging with Mr. Hunter”? I really enjoyed the one you did post. Made me smile all day thinkimg about it. You are so awesome to let us fans into a bit of your thoughts and privacy. Thanks, CJ
Thank you so much for your Willie stories. I met Mr. Mayes at a golf tournament in 1993. What a great day, what a great person. I’m glad you have as much passon for the game as Willie. I think you are the most class act in baseball today. Always looking foward to reading your blog’s. All baseball fans should keep an eye on Torii. This guy is the full package. Sorry Minnesota, he’s an ANGEL now.