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This Slate Belt kid once knocked on Willie Mays’ door to say ‘hey.’ What happened next was the thrill of a lifetime.

All-time baseball great Willie Mays stands with Slate Belt resident Robert 'Scott' Saltern in Houston, Texas, in the late 1960s. (Robert Saltern/Contributed photo)
Robert Saltern/contributed photo
All-time baseball great Willie Mays stands with Slate Belt resident Robert ‘Scott’ Saltern in Houston, Texas, in the late 1960s. (Robert Saltern/Contributed photo)
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The kid from the Slate Belt just wanted to say hey to the “Say Hey Kid.”

What happened next was a thrill of the lifetime for Robert “Scott” Saltern, who grew up in East Bangor and now lives in Pen Argyl.

The year was 1967 and Saltern was an 8-year-old, wide-eyed baseball fan. Willie Mays, who died Tuesday at age 93, was one of the biggest stars in the game.

Mays and the San Francisco Giants were in Houston in June for a four-game series against the Astros in the Astrodome, which had opened two years earlier.

Houston was also host to a business convention that week. Saltern was lucky enough to accompany his father, also Robert, to the Shamrock Hilton for the event.

The hotel was a short walk away from the Astrodome — the world’s first multipurpose, domed stadium — and visiting opponents of the Astros stayed there.

The Salterns’ room was a floor above where the Giants were staying and it didn’t take long for the young Saltern to take advantage of his proximity to one of baseball’s all-time greats.

Willie Mays, Giants’ electrifying ‘Say Hey Kid,’ has died at 93

Saltern and another boy — also the son of a businessman attending the convention — found out what room Mays was staying in and bravely knocked on his door one afternoon before the team left the hotel to play a night game.

A Giants teammate answered and asked what the two boys wanted.

“We want to see Willie,” Scott answered.

“Willie’s resting,” the player said.

Then, from inside the room, they heard Mays’ raspy voice.

“Who’s there?” Mays asked his teammate.

“A couple of kids. They want to see you.”

The boys thought that was as close as they would get to meeting Mays, but then they heard him say, “Tell them to come in.”

So Saltern and the other boy nervously entered the room, and there was Mays sitting on the edge of the bed. Mays made them feel at home, talking baseball with them for about 30 minutes and even ordering a room-service delivery of pretzels and Cokes for his young admirers.

“It was an inspiring moment in my life,” said Saltern, a Navy veteran who played football and baseball for Bangor High School in the 1970s. “We just talked baseball. It was Willie Mays, one of the greatest players ever. And he’s asking us what positions we played.”

Mays’ fondness for his young fans is well-documented. In Ken Burns’ “Baseball” documentary, Mays is seen playing stickball in the street with neighborhood kids in Harlem. He would often buy them ice cream before heading to the Polo Grounds, where the Giants played before moving to San Francisco.

In “24: Life Stories and Lessons from the Say Hey Kid,” authored by Mays and John Shea, Mays wrote, “I love kids. I love baseball. There is a connection, and I’ve tried to make a difference with both. I’ve tried to inspire others, and I know many people have inspired me.”

“God bless his family and fans,” Saltern said. “What an inspiring soul.”

During that series in Houston in 1967, Mays connected for a grand slam in extra innings to win a game for the Giants.

But it was his extra effort to connect with his fans that won many hearts, including that of the young boy from the Slate Belt who made the extra effort to knock on his door.

Bradley Krum is a content editor for 첥Ƶ.

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