SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Three of the new Giants coaches walked down a clubhouse hallway over the weekend and stopped in their tracks as they approached an old Don and Charlie's booth that has been tucked in under a staircase. Willie Mays was sitting at the table, eating breakfast and laughing as he told stories.
"That's Willie," one of the coaches whispered as he stood and watched the legend chat with a team employee.
Mays' first visit to camp always brings a little energy, but there was an added dimension this year. The Giants have so many newcomers who have not yet met Mays, and many of them have been looking forward to getting their chance for months. At the top of that list was Billy Hamilton, who also is a speedy center fielder.
"For me to get a chance to actually meet him in person was one of my biggest dreams," Hamilton said. "It was one of the best things that's ever happened in my life, just to actually meet him in person and not just see him on TV. It was one of the greatest feelings I've ever had in my whole life. I'm looking forward to talking to him more.
"It was a dream come true to actually meet him in person and be around him, and just to know that he was in the same vicinity as me."
Hamilton compared Mays to other childhood idols like Derek Jeter and Joe Morgan, and said he's been looking forward to meeting Mays since he signed a non-roster deal with the Giants earlier this month. When the clubhouse staff told him Mays would be coming to Scottsdale early in camp, he insisted that they come and get him as soon as Mays walked into the building.
The word apparently got back to Mays, who pointed at Hamilton as he approached and asked if he was the one who was so eager to meet.
Longtime Giants know that there's a trick to your first spring meeting with Mays. He shakes every hand with a remarkably firm grip that's a reminder of just how powerful his hands were at the plate. Hamilton approached the 88-year-old with some caution. Mays, who stood up and compared forearm sizes with Michael Morse three springs ago, wasn't having it.
"He was sitting there and I shook his hand and he was like, 'No, you've got to really get in there!'" Hamilton said, laughing. "I was so excited that he was finally here. I never knew his personality and I got a chance to be around him and see how funny he was."
Hamilton said he hopes to spend more time with Mays and have longer talks about life and baseball. With his first opportunity, he spent a few minutes telling Mays about his background and growing up in Mississippi. Then Hamilton dashed back to his locker and grabbed his phone so he could take a photo with Mays.
Hamilton has a solid shot at making the roster as a reserve outfielder, which would give hm plenty more opportunities to sit down with Mays, a regular at Oracle Park. If he sticks on the roster, he could find himself in the same position as Mauricio Dubon, who met Mays last summer. When Dubon heard Mays was in the building, he walked over to say hello.
Mays remembered meeting Dubon, who only played for the 2019 Giants for about a month.
"Oh," Mays said to Dubon, "It's the kid that smiles."