Sofia Preston sings the National Anthem to open the new ballpark.

Sofia Preston with baseball legend Willie Mays
Sofia Preston (left) with baseball legend Willie Mays (right).

Little League baseball players, their families and the community gathered in Atherton on Saturday, May 9, to officially open Homer Field at Willie Mays Ballpark, with Atherton resident Willie Mays himself the guest of honor and the subject of a grand slam of loving tributes from those in attendance.

Speaking from the infield of the just-rebuilt field in Holbrook-Palmer Park, San Francisco Giants president and CEO Larry Baer said it the most simply: “Everybody loves you Willie. Thank you for everything you’ve done for all of us.”

Mr. Baer said growing up in San Francisco, “I would be listening to Giants games and I would be channeling Willie Mays.”

“This man, this man’s accomplishments, this man’s personality as ‘The Say Hey Kid,’ … he gave us the great love for baseball,” Mr. Baer said.

Mr. Mays had just turned 84 on May 6, and the crowd sang “Happy Birthday” to him and celebrated with birthday cupcakes along with the food that event organizers said Mr. Mays had requested: hot dogs, Cracker Jack and sodas.

After a ribbon was cut to officially open the field, 9-year-old Atherton resident Sofia Preston belted out the national anthem, a cappella. Bravo! Charlie Gielow, whose dad Doug is his coach on the Electric Supply Scrappers, threw out the first pitch. Charlie, who has played for five years, admitted to being “a little bit” nervous about the honor.

Doug Gielow said he was “thrilled” with the improvements. “It’s gorgeous — it’s spectacular,” he said. Not only is it a “safe place for the kids to play,” but the volunteer effort from the players and parents “brought the community together” to get it ready, he said.

In the first inning of the inaugural game, which featured the Big Tray Dragons versus the Independent Electric Supply Scrappers, some of the safety features of the new stadium were immediately tested out by fly balls, which bounced off the overhead backstop screening instead of flying into the grandstands, and off the roof of one of the new dugouts instead of flying inside.

The Big Tray Dragons won the first game by a score of 11-6.

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