People attend a tribute for Willie Mays on Thursday at the...

People attend a tribute for Willie Mays on Thursday at the Giants' Oracle Park in San Francisco. Mays died two days earlier at age 93. Credit: AP/Godofredo A. Vásquez

I first saw Willie Mays when the Mets played the San Francisco Giants at the Polo Grounds in 1962-63, and at Shea Stadium, as both a Giant and in 1973 as a Met [“Mays, baseball link generations of fans,” Sports, June  20]. You couldn’t take your eyes off him. Everything he did was graceful and electric.

I wish he could have witnessed on TV Thursday night’s tribute game at Rickwood Field in Birmingham, Alabama, where he had his first professional hit.

Mays made everything look easy. He made catching every fly ball, and even many line drives, more difficult, by catching the ball at his waist with the glove turned upward, his legendary basket catch.

This catch required extraordinary positioning and judgment, especially when sprinting full tilt, and it seemed to be the product of his playfulness and joy in playing the game he so loved.

It is astonishing that baseball’s greatest player decided, for his own entertainment, and to the joy of millions who got to see him, to make the game more challenging with his catches.

There’s a reason why this graceful thing of beauty, the basket catch, has never been consistently emulated by another player. It is because only he could do it.

 — Rick Hansen, Dix Hills

I felt a wave of sadness when I heard of Willie Mays’ passing.

My first date, on Aug. 28, 1965, was with a man who would become my husband. It was at a Giants-Mets game at Shea Stadium.

It was a blind date, and the only reason I agreed to go was to see Mays play.

As it turned out, that changed the course of my life.

As a result of my desire to see Mays on the field, decades later, I have a husband and four  children.

 — Linda Guido, Huntington

As a kid growing up in Brooklyn during the ’50s, I got to see what had to be the greatest rivalry in sports history. Three Major League Baseball teams playing in the same city, each with a great centerfielder.

My beloved Dodgers had Duke Snider, the Yankees — hated because they beat the Dodgers so often in the World Series — with Mickey Mantle, and the Giants had Willie Mays.

The biggest argument we kids had was: Who was better — the Duke, Mick or the “Say Hey Kid”?

So now, with the last of the trio passing on, I must make a confession. I truly believe that Mays was not only the greatest of the three (although I think Mantle’s early knee injury kept him from equaling Mays), but he was the greatest all-around position player in baseball history. He could hit and run with the best, and his ability to field was so spectacular, it was hard to believe a person could do what he did.

 — Jerry Bland, Middle Island

In the summer of 1955, my girlfriend, whom I later married, and I went to the Polo Grounds to see the New York Giants play the Brooklyn Dodgers. We had seats in the rightfield stands, about 250 feet from home plate.

A fan, sitting in an aisle seat two rows in front us, had placed a filled cup of beer on the step next to him. Willie Mays hit a home run that dropped on top of the cup on a fly, upending it.

No one cared. We were all in awe of Mays’ round-tripper. I don’t think Mays ever learned about his “hole in one.”

 — Alan Drattell, Floral Park

In May 1966, I was at a Friday night game at Shea Stadium, the Mets against the Giants. The Mets were winning, 4-3, when Willie Mays hit a home run in the eighth inning, tying the score. Even at the tender age of 10, I knew I was witnessing greatness.

Fast-forward 19 years to July 1985 at Yankee Stadium for Old-Timers’ Day, honoring the career of Yankee great Joe DiMaggio. Players who played during the era of Joltin’ Joe were invited.

Despite my lifelong fanaticism for the Yankees, I got goose bumps when Willie Mays, who had retired a dozen years earlier, appeared in a New York Giants uniform.

The players engaged in a fun-filled, two-inning exhibition match. Mays took his rightful place in centerfield. A ball was hit shallow in front of him. What I saw next has since been indelibly and joyfully etched in my mind. Mays slid in and made a magnificent shoestring catch. The crowd roared.

He was 54 years old.

I salute Willie Mays, and I mourn for him and an era gone by.

 — Nick Santora, Roslyn Heights

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