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By Ron Coderre
In the many years of being involved in sports, as a player, umpire and sportswriter, I’ve been fortunate to meet and even become friends with a number of well-known athletes. The passing recently of Willie Mays, the “Say Hey Kid,” brought back memories of one of the greatest chance encounters I’ve enjoyed in this lifetime of mine.
In the mid-1970s the television show ‘Almost Anything Goes,’ hosted by Charlie Jones, Lynn Shackleford and Ruth Buzzi, came to Putnam’s Murphy Park for the filming of its Eastern episode, a competition that was won by Putnam.  The victory then took the team to Boulder City, Nev., just outside of Las Vegas, for the national competition.
During some off time between filming, I wandered into the Tropicana Resort where a television crew was preparing for the taping of a sports show called ‘Steam Room’ hosted by Russ Hodges.  While inquiring about what was going on I was informed that they would be taping the “Say Hey Kid” Willie Mays.  I was invited to remain and watch the show.  As the taping progressed, I was selected from the audience to go on stage with Mays and ask him a question.
Memories of that day that standout were the fact that I was intrigued that Mays was of average height with a very athletic build and hands the size of “meat hooks.” I surmise that those powerful hands are part of the reason he had 3,293 hits during his 19-year career, which included 660 home runs, 1,909 runs-batted-in and a .301 career batting average.
Sitting in high-top stools on the Tropicana stage, Mays was intrigued that I was from Connecticut, stating that playing for the New York Giants he’d visited the Nutmeg state often, although he’d never heard of Putnam.
When the host asked what I wished to ask Willie, my question, “Was ‘The Catch’ you made in the 1954 World Series off the bat of Vic Wertz, the greatest catch you ever made?”  Looking back, that’s probably the most asked question he ever received in his 93 years here among we mortals.  
His response, “I leave that judgment up to the many fans who followed my career in baseball.  I think the throw after the catch was more important.”
I received a ‘Steam Room’ T-shirt for my appearance on stage with Willie Mays and I often wonder what his compensation was for the show, which by the way was later aired in the Greater Los Angeles Area.  The shirt, which I proudly wore frequently, eventually saw its better days and is now long gone and just a memory as is my brief time on stage with the legendary Willie Mays.
I’ve always admired Willie Mays, a man of color who had a Hall of Fame baseball career but remained humble.  He gave two years of his life in the early 1950s to serve his country in the U.S. Army. As a veteran myself, it’s a part of Willie Mays that has always stood out to me.
In his accomplished lifetime he probably never remembered meeting a guy from Putnam, Connecticut.  But the ‘Steam Room’ show memory sticks with me every time I hear the name Willie Mays or the words “Say Hey.”
I can picture Mays in his high-pitched voice as he approached the Pearly Gates saying “Say Hey St. Pete.”      


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