SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Hall of Famer Willie McCovey returned to the ballpark Tuesday for Game 3 of the San Francisco Giants’ NL Championship Series win against St. Louis after being released in recent days from a lengthy stint at Stanford Hospital.
McCovey had been treated since last month following complications from an infection.
“It feels great be back at AT&T Park for today’s NLCS game,” McCovey said in a statement released by the team. “I have been following every pitch of this postseason and am excited to be here with the fans to welcome the team back from St. Louis. I also want to thank everyone for the outpouring of well wishes and support during my recovery. Your notes, cards and messages have been the best medicine anyone could ask for.”
CEO Larry Baer was eager to share the news with the players, who missed McCovey when he couldn’t attend a ceremony to hand out the annual “Willie Mac” Award on Sept. 26 to pitcher Madison Bumgarner.
“How great is that? Huge. He really wanted to be here,” Baer told The Associated Press. “He wanted his first trip out, in the clear from the hospital, to be here, which is what it is. It’s emotional, because people who saw him down there, he had some pretty extensive work done. But he’s always been chipper, positive, no complaints from him. He has a really good support group.”
McCovey stopped briefly outside the clubhouse before making his way to his regular booth. Longtime equipment manager Mike Murphy said hello outside the clubhouse.
The 76-year-old McCovey, a former first baseman and left fielder, was a career .270 hitter with 521 homers and 1,555 RBIs in 22 major league seasons, 19 of them with the Giants. He also played for the Athletics and Padres.
“McCovey’s coming,” career home run leader Barry Bonds told the AP at the ballpark. “He’s family.”
McCovey still gets asked regularly about the 1962 World Series that the Giants lost in seven games to the New York Yankees, and it’s still a tough memory. The Giants lost 1-0 in Game 7 when McCovey lined out to second baseman Bobby Richardson with runners on second and third for the final out.
After San Francisco’s 5-4, 10-inning win, manager Bruce Bochy said he was thrilled to know McCovey was back in the ballpark he considers home.
“It’s great to have him back,” Bochy said. “I know he’s been through a lot. Guys were excited when they heard he came in.”
This was believed to be the first time McCovey has missed the award presentation since its inception in 1980. The “Willie Mac” Award is voted on by the players, coaches and training staff to recognize the team’s most inspirational player both on the field and in the clubhouse.
McCovey has long been a regular for home games at AT&T Park, sitting in his own booth on the broadcast level. Baer said he would be recognized at some point during the game.
“I don’t know when, but we’re going to obviously salute him, recognize him,” Baer said. “It took a lot of effort to get here. He would have it no other way, right?”