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Memorial Boulevard flap has a very simple solution

April 05, 2005

Compared to many other issues, the question of whether to rename Hagerstown's Memorial Boulevard in honor of baseball great Willie Mays is not all that important.

That's particularly true because there's a possible compromise that should satisfy everyone - renaming Municipal Stadium.

Mays, now in his 70s, played his first professional baseball game at the stadium on June 24, 1950.

At the time, Mays was a minor league player on a team affiliated with the New York Giants' system. His first pro game should have been an occasion to celebrate, but it turned out to be anything but.

Some fans at the stadium used racial slurs and made derogatory remarks. And, instead of being lodged with his white teammates, Mays was forced to stay at the Harmon Hotel, an all-black establishment on Jonathan Street.

More than 30 years later, Mays was still feeling the sting of that unpleasant experience. In a 1988 TV interview, Mays said that of all the places he visited in those days, Hagers-town was where he received the worst treatment.

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But in August of 2004, Mays returned to Hagerstown for a special dinner and an appearance at the stadium.

All was forgiven, he said, because "You just don't hold that against a town because the town isn't the person who hurt you."

For that reason, as much as any of his many exploits on the field, Mays shouldn't be forgotten. Generations born too late to see him play should know what happened here in 1950 and how Mays found it in his heart to forgive the city for the hurt inflicted on him when he was just 19.

How can that be done? By naming Municipal Stadium, or any new facility built, in Mays' honor. The veterans who are upset by the idea of turning Memorial Boulevard into Willie Mays Way should be happy and the city would still have the opportunity to honor this legend of baseball.

A new or renovated stadium could also include a Willie Mays museum, with exhibits that chronicle his start in Hagers-town and concluding with his visit here last year.

If there is a downside to this, we don't see it. Unless, of course, there is someone out there with a sentimental attachment to the stadium's current name.

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