By Barbara Wood Special to the Almanac
Although he's been retired since decades before they were born, Willie McCovey made a new generation of fans this week when he visited Woodside Elementary School on Monday, May 5, to help rededicate the baseball field that is named in his honor.
The school's students, teachers, staff and some community members gathered on McCovey field at lunchtime, with lots of San Francisco Giants' orange and black in evidence.
"I'm very honored to have (the field) named after me," said Mr. McCovey. "This is one of the thrills of my life, being here with you guys. I mean it."
Mr. McCovey, who has lived in Woodside since 1977, which is the year the field was originally dedicated, answered questions from the students about his career. He spent 22 years as a Major League baseball player, all but four of them with the Giants. He was named to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1986.
"I was living out my dream," he told the students about his days as a Giant, playing on his dream team in San Francisco and with one of his dream teammates, Willie Mays, who he had idolized growing up.
Mr. McCovey's favorite moment in baseball? Hitting a home run in the second game of the 1962 World Series on Friday, Oct. 5, at Candlestick Park.
Mr. McCovey told the students he played basketball, baseball and football growing up. But once Jackie Robinson became a Major League baseball player, when Mr. McCovey was 9 years old, he knew he could someday play there himself.
"When he broke the color barrier, I knew there was room for me to play Major League baseball," Mr. McCovey said. "I knew one day I would make it to the big leagues."
Although he is 76 and uses a wheelchair, Mr. McCovey apparently still retains a good grip, if the comment overheard from one of those lucky enough to shake his hand before the event is any indication. "He nearly broke my hand," the man joked.
An anonymous donation of $310,150 by a school family allowed the baseball field to be redone over the winter holidays. Another $15,000 was donated by the Alpine-West Menlo Little League.
Upgrading the field and making it accessible to all was part of the school's facilities master plan, says Superintendent Beth Polito. "We just streamlined it and did it quick because we wanted to be able to use it for this year's baseball season," she said. "It's beautiful; it looks great."
The total cost of the project was $353,129, with the amount in excess of the donations paid by the school.
The baseball diamond and outfield were completely redone and bullpens added for pitcher warm-ups. Drainage and irrigation were also part of the project, according to school board member Rudy Driscoll.