In 1965, two important things happened in my life; I got married, and shortly thereafter I fell madly in love with Willie Mays. The love for Willie has stood the test of time; the marriage did not.
Willie mesmerized me! He enchanted me! I wanted to have his children! I wanted to watch him play! I wanted to wash and iron his uniforms! My husband John was not upset over my infatuation with Willie Mays, primarily because he didn't take it very seriously. In the first place, Willie was about 15 years my senior. Secondly, it was unlikely that I would divorce my new husband and marry a black man in 1965, and lastly, I had never even met Willie Mays. Mere details! I begged John to get game tickets so I could watch Willie play. I listened to every game on the radio and held my breath when Willie came to bat. I went to church frequently and prayed for Willie's batting streaks to continue. At one point, when Willie was in a slump, I made a deal with God that if he came out of the slump, I would leave my husband and enter the convent. Willie came out of the slump. I broke my promise about the convent.
Willie hit 52 home runs for the Giants in 1965 and he won the MVP award as well. I was thrilled at his success! Willie was the best player who ever graced the field in my estimation. His defense was as fantastic as his offense. He was amazing! When the season ended, I felt a terrible let-down. I would be forced to do without my hero until April of the next year.
In March of 1966, we were living in an apartment complex in San Mateo. We had new neighbors moving in downstairs. We went down to meet them and introduce ourselves. Holy cow! Our new neighbors were Gaylord Perry and his wife Blanch. (Right then I knew it was fate! It was kismet! It was meant to be!) We invited the Perry's up for coffee and conversation after they got settled and they said they would love to. Now, in case you have been lacking in your baseball history, Gaylord Perry came to pitch for the Giants in 1966. Gaylord was a Cy Young Award Winner and a five time All Star. It was pretty thrilling to have this man as our neighbor.
The truth is, I could have not cared less about Gaylord Perry. He was simply a means to an end for me, as you might have guessed. We did have the Gaylord and Blanch up for coffee a couple of times. The first time, I contained myself (mostly) only asking a few questions about his teammate, Willie. I thought I was pretty subtle. My husband told me afterwards that I had not been that subtle. Whatever.
The second time the Perry's came over, I decided to lay my cards on the table. I begged Gaylord to get me an autographed baseball from my hero. I was shameless. I told them that it was the most important thing I had ever requested and that I thought I would die if I didn't get that autographed ball. My husband started looking at me like I had lost my mind. I ignored him and continued to plead. Gaylord mentioned something like "I'll see what I can do" and he and Blanch made a hasty retreat from our place. John was annoyed at me, (but what else was new?) He knew how much I loved Willie!
About a week later, Blanch came to the door and handed me a small brown paper bag. I could have wept with joy! I had my treasure! I have kept it always! I thanked her profusely and asked to to relay my gratitude to Gaylord. I think she just wanted to stop me from peeking out the blinds whenever her husband came home to see if he had something that looked like a baseball in his hand. I still love Willie Mays and I probably always will.