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Just a year out of high school, 19-year-old Willie Mays took the field for the Minneapolis_Millers">Minneapolis Millers on May 1, 1951, opening day at Nicollet Park. More than 6,000 fans watched the rookie notch three hits and make a “sparkling catch” against the flagpole. Another future Hall of Famer, Hoyt Wilhelm, was the winning pitcher.
The Minneapolis Tribune’s account of the rain-shortened 11-0 victory over Columbus appears below. Two weeks later, the New York Giants called up the hot-hitting Mays and made him their center fielder.
All business: Mays got a grip on things in the Millers clubhouse.
Mays slid home -- presumably safe, but the original caption overlooks that detail -- in a night game at Nicollet Park.
During a rain delay that turned into a postponement in mid-May, a game of checkers was the center of attention in the Millers clubhouse. Battling on the board in this Minneapolis Star "Sportsphoto" were Bama Rowell, left, and Hoyt Wilhelm.
Dick Gustafson, 80, of Minneapolis writes:
Thanks for reminding us of what a great player Willie Mays was. I was at the May 1st, 1951, game with the famous "flagpole catch." But that wasn't the whole story. There was a runner on third base with less than two outs. The runner tagged up and broke for home as soon as Willie caught the ball in dead center field. The runner was about halfway home when the ball thrown by Willie bounced once by the pitchers' mound and then to the catcher mitt. The runner reversed direction and had to slide back into third base to beat the throw from the catcher. The fans couldn't believe what they had just seen.
I remember turning to my friend at the end of the play to predict that that young guy would soon be in New York with the Giants. What a thrill to be at his first game in Minneapolis.