SAN FRANCISCO -- Hall of Famer Willie Mays paid a visit to the Nationals' clubhouse prior to Wednesday's game against the Giants, at the invite of manager Dusty Baker. Mays, 86, sat at a table as players gathered around to say hello and interact with the legend as he cracked jokes and autographed baseballs.
"They're kind of shy and kind of like little kids when you see a legend like Willie Mays," Baker said. "I feel very fortunate to have been with him for quite a few years and played against him for a while.
"He's one of the greats of the game that's still regular and like one of the players. So that's why I think it makes it easier for the guys to come around and ask him for pictures and stuff because he's very, very, very approachable."
It was the second consecutive year in which Mays visited the Nats clubhouse during their yearly trip to AT&T Park, and it was still a huge hit with the players and staff.
He asked Wilmer Difo about his home in the Dominican Republic and was shocked to learn Difo did not know about Juan Marichal. His former teammate, Chris Speier, joked that Mays was the only reason Speier learned how to hit. Mays asked Max Scherzer, the reigning National League Cy Young Award winner, to bring him a hot dog.
And the former 24-time All-Star, 12-time Gold Glover and two-time MVP who is regarded as one of the best players in MLB history imparted some knowledge on the Nationals. As he shook hands with each player, Mays -- whose vision has blurred in his older age -- would take extra time to examine their hands. Upon meeting Ryan Zimmerman and learning he was from Virginia Beach, Va., Mays invited him to hang out, grab lunch and get manicures and pedicures together the next time Zimmerman was in town.
Baker explained later there was a reasoning behind all of it.
"Back in the day your hand strength was more important than your arm and necessary to your bat strength," Baker said. "He used to always shake hands with you because he had big huge hands. He used to get on me about trying to increase my hand strength. I'm on these guys about hand strength, I'm on my son about hand strength. That's what starts and stops the bat. The stronger your hands are, the more control you have."
Jamal Collier covers the Nationals for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.