Youth, game still Mays' priorities

August 10, 2004|by BOB PARASILITI

Mike Wagner had a Wally Pipp moment on Monday.

It wasn't as drastic as the day when Pipp took ill while playing first base for the New York Yankees. Back then, a guy named Lou Gehrig stepped in to play and Pipp was never heard of again while he became an ever-enduring trivia answer.

For Wagner, a Hagerstown Suns outfielder, it wasn't so final. Still, he became a local trivia notation, thanks to Hall of Famer Willie May's return to Hagerstown, 54 years after he made his professional baseball debut at the same Municipal Stadium.

The question will be: "What Hagerstown Suns player last wore No. 24 before the club retired the number in honor of the Giants' all-time great?"


Wagner was wearing No. 24 when he left the Municipal Stadium field Sunday, but when he appeared before Monday's game, No. 25 was on his back.

He was bumped by seniority.

"I should have fought him for it," Wagner growled in jest.

It was one of a number of changes that Hagerstown experienced Monday and in the half-decade since Mays played here.

The social and political changes of the area were outlined during most of the Monday's ceremonies at the Clarion Hotel and Convention Center Antietam Creek and the stadium.

But one constant remained in all the pomp and circumstance of the event. While times and memories change, the impact of baseball and one of its heroes is everlasting.

Fans flocked and strained for a look at a player who is arguably the greatest living player in baseball history. Mays' charisma, his memorable defensive plays and the fourth-most home runs hit in baseball history made him an attraction for everyone to see. But even in all the commotion, Mays still kept baseball on the simplest of levels.

Baseball is still a kid's game.

"It's a pleasure to see these young kids come along," Mays said to the Municipal Stadium crowd of 4,021 fans, referring to Asheville's and Hagerstown's players. "A lot of them will be in the majors. This is what it was all about."

Youth and baseball became the underlying theme of the evening, after the trials and tribulations Mays endured the first time he came to a then-segregated Hagerstown.

Mays took a few minutes to sign autographs and say a few words for the players for both teams before taking the Municipal Stadium field.

"(Players) turn to me everyday," Mays said. "I'm at the ballpark everyday. I try to make them understand that I'm there for them. If they want to hear what I have to say, I'll tell them. A lot of them think they know it all, but I'll tell them right there and then if they will listen."

The aura of Mays wasn't wasted on Suns players who hope some day to get a sliver of the success he enjoyed. Players, including relief pitcher Aaron Sobieraj, captured the event on film just to prove they were here at the same time as a legend.

Little League players representing a number of Hagerstown's 13 leagues stood in the outfield during the pre-game, on-the-field presentations. They came in and surrounded the Say Hey Kid during the national anthem. One young player came dressed in his uniform to greet Mays at the Clarion Hotel reception.

Even the time Mays spent before throwing out the first pitch turned into a lesson for Dominique Adams, the seventh-grade representative from the Washington County Boys and Girls Club who joined in the ceremony. Mays took the time to show Adams how to grip the ball to accurately throw it to the plate.

On the other end was Suns second baseman Pat Dobson, who caught the throws ... even though he wasn't on the schedule.

"I didn't know that my manager (Mike Ramsey) was supposed to catch the pitches," Dobson said. "No one was there so I just jumped in. ... It was the most amazing thing I ever experienced."

Once again, youth won out in baseball while Ramsey got Pipped.

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