Willie McCovey, a baseball giant, remembered as a hero off the field for devotion to Junior Giants

Long after his playing days were over, Willie McCovey was still hitting home runs for the San Francisco Junior Giants.

Over the years, McCovey helped raise millions of dollars for the program.

"I’m saddened. We're all saddened," said Sue Petersen, Executive Director of the SF Giants Community Fund, which oversees Junior Giants.

She says McCovey was always willing to help.

"Junior Giants meant for him echoing that experience of when he was young. What does it mean to play baseball and learn all the things that come with that? He could translate that to the kids decades later," she said. 

One of McCovey's last phone calls was about the charity.

"We have a Junior Giants event every November where we give out Willie Mac awards for kids. He wanted to make sure what the date was, that it was on his calendar. Junior Giants was a big part of his life," said Mario Alioto, the Giants Executive Vice-President. 

The Junior Giants is a free baseball program serving some 24,000 boys and girls in California, Nevada and Oregon.

In addition to playing ball, the kids also learn about leadership, the importance of education and bullying prevention.

"He grew up in Mobile, Alabama. He always said he didn't have a glove [and] didn't have a lot of things the other kids had. He related to that with the Junior Giants," Alioto said. 

With his quiet, gentle manner Willie Mac could be quite persuasive when it came to getting current Giants to support the kids.

"Willie for us was always the person to bring people together – the center of the network," said Petersen. 

The young ballplayers may not have been able to see Willie Mac play, but he was happy to watch them play. Even in a wheelchair, even while battling health problems, the kids could count on Number 44.

"For us to be able to honor him and amplify what our message is because of the power of his legacy, that doesn't end with his passing," said Peterson.