Ever since Willie Mays was five years old, it was always baseball, baseball, baseball. Mays’ dad would play baseball at the local tire plant, and he would always play catch with his father. Mays would even sit on the bench at some of his father’s games.
Although his eyes were always on playing baseball, Mays played other sports growing up — he played basketball and football in high school — and he excelled in those sports as well. Mays decided to go pro in baseball in 1948 and joined the Chattanooga Choo-Choos, which was a Negro Minor League team. Almost immediately, Mays was traded to the Birmingham Black Barons, and his baseball career took off.
Mays attracted the attention of Major League Baseball teams, and with a few offers, Mays found his place with the San Francisco Giants in 1951. Mays played his rookie season with the Giants and made it all the way to the World Series. The Giants ended up losing the championship, but for a rookie like Mays, it was a pretty successful season. Hoping to ride the high into the next season, Mays was destined somewhere else.
The Korean War had just started and Mays was drafted into the United States Army and sent to Fort Eustis in Virginia. While in service, Mays spent most of his time playing baseball with other teams in the military.
Mays was discharged in 1954, and even though he missed around 266 games, he reported to spring training for the Giants immediately after his release from service. After a three years break from the game didn’t seem to affect Mays and he took the Giants all the way to World Series champions.
He was beloved by the country for his status in the baseball world, but Mays was also beloved for his devotion to his country through his service in the Army, and skill on the baseball field.