Say Hey, Willie

March 7, 2011 – Last week — in between trips to Tampa — I
traveled to Arizona to conduct a highly sought after interview.

On March 3, I met with Willie Mays at his house in
Scottsdale and discussed the career of Alex Rodriguez with him. The interview
took place at Mays’ dinning room table, and it lasted about 30 minutes.

Mays is one of several all-time baseball greats who I interviewed
over the last few months for a feature-story on Alex Rodriguez, which will
appear in the May issue of Yankees
Magazine
.

I spent some time with Hank Aaron, Don Mattingly and Yogi
Berra in New York City earlier in the year, and I met up with Mike Schmidt in
Clearwater, Florida two weeks ago.

The Mays interview will make what I feel is an already
special story even more exclusive. When I initially reached out to Mays through
his personal assistant, I was told that he rarely does one-on-one interviews,
and that she couldn’t imagine why someone from the New York Yankees wanted to
speak with him. I asked Mays’ assistant to let the Say Hey Kid know that
Rodriguez and I put together a wish list of players whose words we wanted to be
in the story — and Mays was at the top the list.

That got Mays to “mull it over” for a week.

Then the Mays’ camp asked me who else I spoke to for this
story, and I provided them with the names above.

A day later, I got the call I had been hoping for. “He said
yes,” Mays’ assistant said a second after I picked up the phone.

Less than a week later, I was on my way to the Southwest.

On the day of the interview — a mere 20 minutes before I was
scheduled to meet Mays at Scottsdale Stadium — the Hall of Famer called an
audible, asking me to come to his house for the interview.

I was humbled by the opportunity to spend a half hour with
Willie Mays at his dinning room table. It was certainly one of those times that
felt surreal.

But it was real, and it was a challenge. Mays, who hit 660
home runs, was selective in the topics he was willing to discuss.

To use a baseball comparison, I felt like a pitcher who
didn’t have his best stuff for the first 20 minutes of the conversation. But I
stayed with the list of questions I had prepared, and it paid off. In the last ten minutes of the
interview, Mays spoke candidly about A-Rod, even discussing the first time he
heard about him.

“A scout for the Seattle Mariners told me about this guy who
had just been called up,” Mays said. “He said to me, ‘Willie, this kid is only
19 years old, but I honestly think he can do everything you did in the game.
The first time I saw Alex swing the bat, I agreed with the scout.”

Stay tuned to this blog over the next month, because I will
be posting several more entries about the interviews and experiences that went
into my one-of-a-kind story on Alex Rodriguez, including two days I spent with
A-Rod in Miami.

–Alfred Santasiere III

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