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03/18/11 7:35 PM ET
Giants awed in presence of legends
Franchise greats Mays, Cepeda, Perry visit Spring Training
By Chris Haft / MLB.com
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Though they're the kings of the Major Leagues, the Giants bowed Friday to members of baseball's immortal royalty. The reigning World Series champions enjoyed a private 45-minute audience with three Hall of Famers who distinguished themselves with San Francisco during their illustrious careers: Willie Mays, Gaylord Perry and Orlando Cepeda. Even as winners of the sport's biggest prize last year, the Giants still had much to absorb from the trio of legends, who commanded respect with their wealth of accomplishments."Not only did they put it together for one season, they put it together for 20-plus years, each one of them," right-hander Sergio Romo said. "Their kind of experience, you can't just go to the store and buy it. There's no Super Walmart out there that carries it." Players experiencing their first Spring Training with the club learned what it meant to be a Giant. "Every time you get a chance to talk or listen to guys like that, you definitely have to keep your ears open, for inspiration and everything," said infielder Mike Fontenot, who was traded from the Chicago Cubs to San Francisco last August. "They have a great message: Play hard, play as a team, have everyone's back." Right-hander Shane Loux, in camp as a non-roster invitee, glowed like a little boy as he introduced himself to Perry. For Loux, who described himself as a "fan of the game and the history of the game" -- a trait shared by relatively few players -- it was a treat. Reciprocating that feeling, Perry felt pleased to serve the organization by mingling with current players. "I played with eight clubs," he said, "and the Giants are No. 1 by far, far, far, far." Mays maintained his magical aura. It didn't matter that only two players in the room, non-roster right-handers Marc Kroon and Guillermo Mota, had been born when Mays played his final regular-season game on Sept. 9, 1973. "I mean, that's Willie Mays," Loux said, articulating the thrill he derived from the man's mere presence. "Does anybody else realize that? This is Willie Mays." Each of the greats imparted a distinct message. Mays reminded players to enjoy each day they spend in uniform. "He still remembers 1951, 1954," Romo said of Mays, who turns 80 on May 6. "All those memories that he has and he's sharing them with us. How do I appreciate it as much as he does? That's what I want to learn to do." Perry, who saw all five World Series games last year as a guest of Giants management, urged the club to maintain its championship level. "I told them to do what they've been doing," he said. Perry also shared stories of his humble beginnings in the Minor Leagues. Playing for the Giants' Class C outpost at St. Cloud, Minn., during his first professional season in 1958, he recalled that his team traveled in five station wagons, with players taking turns driving. Cepeda warned the Giants about the perils of winning. He spoke from experience, having played for the St. Louis Cardinals when they defeated Boston in the World Series in 1967 before losing the following year's Fall Classic in seven games to Detroit after leading in games, 3-1. "Sometimes when you win the World Series, there's a tendency to get complacent," Cepeda said. "They need to start winning in Spring Training. Because everybody's going to be after them." On a normal Spring Training morning, the Giants would have been practicing fundamentals during the period when Mays, Perry and Cepeda spoke. The esteemed group delivered a lesson that transcended anything that could be learned about cutoffs or rundowns. "One thing I took from today was how loyal they were to each other, how close they were to each other," Romo said. "To see they still have that relationship, that bond -- they're not afraid to show they care about each other. It makes me want to tell each one of my teammates what they mean to me."
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Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.