Those moments that stop you cold, you've experienced them. Hearing the news that Willie McCovey had died was one of those moments for me.
I received the news via text from a colleague, and I immediately went to social media hoping it wasn't true. Sadly, it was.
I just sat for a bit. I sat and thought about what Willie McCovey meant to me.
He was this unbelievably popular and larger-than-life figure for so many Giants fans, but to me, he was just Willie. I didn't grow up watching him play. I grew up hearing about him. And I've learned of his baseball prowess through watching endless footage of his prime playing days.
Story after story about Stretch has transcended through multiple generations of baseball. The legend that he was, he easily could have been difficult and unapproachable, but he was the exact opposite. I can't think of a time he wasn't warm, friendly, a gentlemen and a gentle man.
Every season, I'd interview Willie about the Stretch Drive -- something he lent his name to and passionately believed in. Growing up in Alabama, a glove was hard to come by, and he made it his mission to put a glove in the hands of any child who had a desire to play the game.
We ended up calling our yearly discussion our annual "date," and while the topic always was the same, we managed to get a little more out of this extremely humble and quiet man each season. We'd pass each other in the hallway, and I'd say, "Hey Willie, you excited about our date in a couple months, weeks, days?" He'd always chuckle and say "Always, Amy G," and his lovely wife, Estela, would give me a hug.
@AmyGGiants 💔 #ForeverGiant #Forever44 #RIPWILLIEMCCOVEY #stretchdrive #gojrgiants I have no regrets having involved my son in @gojrgiants having lost this truly great man today, I hope to stay involved in whatever capacity I can @giantscommunity pic.twitter.com/dotqyqdkEv— julito (@locosfgfan) November 1, 2018
His exemplary play and stature was so well respected that the Willie Mac Award was created to recognize the most inspirational Giants player. It’s by far the highest honor a Giants player can receive, a coveted piece of hardware voted upon by teammates, coaches, trainers and now fans speaks to how a player handles himself on and off the field. I'm saddened to think of watching the 2019 winner announced without Willie on the field to say his name ... but I believe he'll be there, looking over us.
However you refer to Mr. McCovey -- be it Willie, Willie Mac, Stretch or 44 -- there's one word that personifies him: treasure. He was a great player but perhaps even a better human being.
I will miss our dates. I will miss you, Willie McCovey.