- Associated Press - Saturday, May 7, 2011

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - The Say Hey Kid is as popular as ever.

The San Francisco Giants honored Willie Mays on his 80th birthday Friday night with a ceremony befitting a baseball legend, complete with a celebratory letter from President Barack Obama and a video tribute that included everyone from Commissioner Bud Selig to singer Tony Bennett.

Mays was driven on a golf cart from center field to the mound and received a roaring standing ovation from a sellout crowd of more than 42,000 at AT&T Park. At one point during the montage, Mays was wiping his face and pulling down his old Giants cap.

“I’m just so happy,” said Mays, wearing a black coat over a sharp gray suit, white shirt and orange tie on a chilly night by the bay. “When you have people like you guys to come out and cheer for me, it’s just a wonderful, wonderful feeling.”

The video shown on the center-field scoreboard before the Giants rallied to beat the Colorado Rockies 4-3 in the opener of a three-game series highlighted the Hall of Famer’s career. It also included birthday wishes from Hank Aaron, Bill Cosby and former President Bill Clinton.

Home Run King Barry Bonds, the godson of Mays, had a seperate video played after the fifth inning thanking Mays for his guidance over the years. Bonds, fresh off a federal perjury trial in which a jury convicted him on one count of obstruction of justice, said it has been “an honor for me and my family to be a part of your life.”

Others also had memories to share.

“After spending my childhood watching you on television, that was my idea of what a baseball player could be. And one of the greatest thrills of my presidency was getting to meet you and become your friend,” Clinton said.

There were orange, black and white balloons that dotted the ballpark on a day San Francisco Mayor Edwin Lee declared “Willie Mays Day.” Fans wore birthday hats and some even pulled Mays’ old No. 24 jersey out of the closet.

Hall of Famers Willie McCovey, Gaylord Perry and Orlando Cepeda along with some of Mays’ teammates going back to the Negro Leagues were in attendance. They honored Mays’ accolades _ 660 home runs, 24-time All-Star selections and 12 Gold Glove Awards for perhaps the best center fielder ever _ but also a man who’s still beloved, the embodiment of baseball’s so-called Golden Era.

“If they had a Nobel Prize for baseball, Willie would have won it,” said Lon Simmons, the longtime color announcer of the Giants.

The first 20,000 fans to arrive also received a replica statue of the one that stands outside the waterfront ballpark in Willie Mays Plaza. Kids from the Willie Mays Boys and Girls Club were on hand for the festivities.

Earlier in the clubhouse, Mays ate a vanilla birthday cake layered with white icing presented to him by the team. He sat in clubhouse manager Mike Murphy’s office talking _ what else? _ baseball past and present.

“It’s really very humbling for all the guys, myself, to have somebody of his stature _ could be the greatest player of all-time _ hanging out in our clubhouse and talking baseball with the guys,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. “He has a great way about him.”

Mays has remained a part of the Giants well after his playing days.

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