Oracle Park opens up for fans to pay tribute to baseball great Willie Mays

Thursday at Oracle Park was special.  

It opened the gates to welcome fans inside the ballpark  to honor Willie Mays, also known as the "say hey kid."  

They also got to watch the classic matchup between the Giants and the Cardinals.

There was a mixture of emotions as some fans smiled and others cried as they shared their memories of Mays. 

People left flowers, candles and messages.

They said Mays lives in their hearts.

"I grew up watching him. I idolized the way he played the game. That's how I chose to play centerfield myself," said Anderson Bailey who traveled to the Bay Area with his wife and son Gabriel. 

The 24-year-old said Mays paved the way for the younger generation of the Black community such as himself,"People couldn't eat at restaurants, couldn't drink at fountains.  He made it easier for people like me."  

On this day the Giants installed  a  large "24" statue, May's number, in centerfield.

Susan Lallo said she wants the field to be named after Mays,"I think we all thought he would live forever" and that he mentored many young people, longer than he actually played baseball."  

"Dear Willie,  you were my boyhood hero," read 70-year-old Ronald Shaheen from the message he wrote for the tribute to Mays.  

He recalled jumping the fence as a teen at the players' parking lot at Candlestick to get May's autograph. 

"When he came up to the plate at Candlestick Park,  the fans would start clapping.  That means they wanted him to hit a home run," said Shaheen.

In the fans' eyes, Mayes made homeruns on and off the field.

Robert Tanner said he's grateful for Mays's donations to the Potrero Hill Recreation Center where he played as a young boy.

This event at Oracle was bittersweet.

"It was kind of sad. But in a way,  it was beautiful because it's dedicated to him," said Tanner. . 

Oracle was a haven for fans as they came to watch the televised broadcast of the tribute to Mays in Alabama and the game between the Giants and Cardinals at the  historic Rickwood Field where Mayes started his baseball career.  

All shown on a large scoreboard bearing a "24" clock, perhaps a symbol of Mays's timeless talent.  

"I'm just happy we're here to celebrate him, but sad that he couldn't make it back to Rickwood Field," said Lallo. 

Fans said they found comfort in coming to Oracle Park to share their personal stories of Mays.

Giants officials said a public celebration of life will be announced at a later date.  

Amber Lee is a reporter with KTVU. Email Amber at or text/leave message at 510-599-3922. Follow her on Facebook @AmberKTVU,  Instagram @AmberKTVU  or Twitter @AmberKTVU