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Home is where the heart is

August 10, 2004|by BOB PARASILITI

bobp@herald-mail.com

Fifty-four years ago, Willie Mays couldn't wait to leave Hagerstown.

On Monday, the baseball Hall of Famer felt like staying in town.

Mays found out that his first impressions of the Hub City of old were a matter of circumstance and not habit when he made his return to the area where he made his professional baseball debut in 1954.

After Mays settled the score over his treatment in the time when segregation separated him from his Trenton Giants teammates during his three-day stay, he seemed ready to take up an East Coast residency here.

"I'm very proud that I came back because of ... experiences that I had at the beginning of my career," Mays said. "You don't hold that against a town. ... Coming here is like coming home again."

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This town was at its hospitable best Monday with long ovations and loud cheers at every turn for baseball's living legend. After his native Birmingham, Ala., and his current residence in San Francisco, the town's goodwill had Mays seeing himself hanging around Hagerstown.

But even with all the nostalgia and tradition that surrounded the day, Mays was quick to make an observation.

"You gotta get a new ballpark here, man," Mays blurted out.

Mays reminisced about playing in Municipal Stadium, the framework which is the same building he played in three generations ago.

He talked about the clubhouses down the right-field line, which are still there. He spoke about hitting a ball over a deep left-field wall and hitting a house. The house is gone, but the wall is still standing.

Mays talked about giving back some of the items he received from the town for a museum if a new stadium would be built on the newly named Willie Mays Way, formally Memorial Boulevard.

Mays was proof that first impressions don't always have to last ... and neither do old ballparks.

There is a time when there needs to be improvement, which he capsulized in one of his beliefs about life.

"Sometimes you have to back up to get where you want to go," Mays said.

Even Mays, in his limited time here, could see that Hagerstown is a town on the move, whether the citizens like it or not. When Mays made his statement about the new stadium, it was one of the first times a loud cheer went up supporting such a motion.

It was enough to make Mays an honorary Hub City resident, promising he would return to see the day that Hagerstown builds a new structure that everyone could be proud of.

"I'll be the first one there and the last one out," Mays said.

After all, home - be it an adopted one - is where the heart is.




Bob Parasiliti is a staff writer for The Herald-Mail. His column appears every other Tuesday. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2310, or by e-mail at bobp@herald-mail.com

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