Friday, January 21, 2011

Willie Mays shows Harlem children greatness at Public School 46 appearance

Earlier Friday, Hall of Fame baseball player Willie Mays returned to the site of his first major league assignment, the Polo Grounds. The memories of Mays darting across the depths of the outfield in Harlem remain vivid in the minds of those who witnessed it. Some 60 years later from his debut, the Polo Grounds have changed, buildings now mark where the historic ballpark once was. Situated across the street from the site of the former baseball cathedral is Public School 46. The youngsters there received the treat of a lifetime, as the iconic Giants great visited the school with the 2010 World Series trophy.

Willie Mays outside PS 46 / N. Diunte
Mays addressed a full house of over 300 students, staff and parents at the Harlem school. Hanging on his every word, the crowd listened attentively as he regaled the crowd with tales of children bellowing at his window in the morning to play stickball with them in the same city streets where they currently reside. Returning to the area where he built his legend motivated him to address the children.

"[In] 1951, when I first started, I lived right on top of the hill here," Mays said. "I used to go up and down this street all the time so I'm familiar with this area. That's why I wanted to come back and let all of the youngsters know what I was doing here."

He advised the children to further their education and support their families.

"Education is the key to this lifestyle now," Mays said. "You have to get an education ... go as far as you can."

During the ceremony Mays gave out 12 autographed baseballs to "A" students. When he got to the 12th student, he was out of baseballs. Mays, being the entrepreneur that he is, reached into his pocket and gave the child a crisp $100 bill. During the assembly, he fielded questions from the students who had researched his career before his appearance. One of the things he discussed was his fondness for the "Big Apple".

"I don't think I ever left," he said. "I didn't go to San Francisco by choice, I was asked to go by the team. New York has always been part of my home."

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