For senior writer Ron Fimrite, visiting Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays (page 70) was a warm trip down memory lane.
"We were all born the same year, 1931," Fimrite says from Scottsdale, Ariz., where he's covering spring training. "I was born in January, Mays in May and Mantle in October. I feel as if I grew up with them. They were rookies when I was a junior at Cal, in 1951, and the Yankees trained here in Arizona that year." He turns and looks at the gentleman reclining two chaise longues away and asks, "Isn't that right?"
"That's right," says National League president Chub Feeney, who was the vice-president of the Giants in those days. "They were here and we were in St. Petersburg, and that was the year Mantle and Mays broke in."
"I remember," Fimrite says, "because Jackie Jensen was my hero, having been one of the alltime All-Americas in football at Cal, and Mantle stole his thunder that spring by hitting dozens of home runs. And of course, I saw Mays's first game in San Francisco," says Fimrite, a writer for The San Francisco Chronicle at the time.
"So from 1958 on [when the Giants moved from New York], Mays became a big part of my life," Fimrite says. "I was at a baseball writers' dinner in Boston, where Mays was a guest, right after his induction into the Hall of Fame. The New York writers talked as if they knew Mays's career well, and it dawned on me that if one person there had seen him more than anyone else, it was me. They were reminiscing as if his career had ended at age 26."
Fimrite had met Mantle prior to this assignment, but knew him more from the tales of their mutual friend Billy Martin, who had grown up near Fimrite in the East Bay. "When I was at Mantle's home in Dallas last month," Fimrite says, "Billy happened to call, and I got on the line to say hello. He said to me, 'You're the second Berkeley High kid to be in that house.'
"The first was a better second baseman," Fimrite says.
THE RITES OF SPRING TRAINING: FIMRITE AND SAN DIEGO PADRE STEVE GARVEY IN ARIZONA