Yankees’ Aaron Judge reflects on a personal experience with Willie Mays; Derek Jeter also pays tribute

The death of all-time baseball great Willie Mays hit close to home for New York Yankees captain Aaron Judge, whose memories of the longtime San Francisco Giants star date back to childhood.

Judge hails from Linden, Calif., about 95 miles east of San Francisco, and grew up a Giants fan.

“I’ve got a family friend that’s pretty close with his family, so I got a chance to meet him,” Judge said Tuesday night, shortly after Mays’ death.

“He showed me a couple of things about throwing the baseball in from the outfield, which I still remember. I’ve got a couple cool things that are signed in my childhood room.”

Mays died Tuesday afternoon at age 93.

Nicknamed the “Say Hey Kid,” Mays recorded 3,293 hits, 660 home runs, 1,909 RBI, 24 All-Star selections and 12 Gold Gloves, all of which rank within the top 13 in MLB history.

His famed over-the-shoulder basket catch deep in center field at the Polo Grounds during Game 1 of the 1954 World Series remains one of the most iconic plays in MLB history. Mays won his lone championship that year.

“I was a big Willie Mays fan,” said Judge, who plays center field for the Yankees. “What he meant to the game, what he meant to California, all the Giants fans out there, especially me growing up, you wanted to play like Willie and make those catches that he did.”

Mays made his professional debut in the Negro Leagues with the Birmingham Black Barons in 1948 and won National League Rookie of the Year with the then-New York Giants in 1951.

The five-tool star totaled 21 seasons with the Giants, including 15 years in San Francisco, and spent parts of his final two seasons with the Mets.

Mays retired in 1973 and was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1979.

“The numbers he put out on the field and what he did are impressive, but him as a person, him as a human being was even bigger,” Judge said. “He was bigger than baseball. It was something special, and the baseball world is definitely going to miss a great one.”

In a statement, the Yankees called Mays “an iconic figure during a Golden Era of baseball in New York City and simply one of the greatest players that the game will ever see.”

Derek Jeter, who preceded Judge as the Yankees’ captain, also paid tribute.

“One of the best to ever play the game and even a better person,” Jeter wrote in a social media post. “Thoughts and prayers are with Willie’s family and loved ones.”