Finally, His Day In The Sun

By Ronald Clark
Updated: June 29, 2008

SAN DIEGO — Walter McCoy walked into the Padres clubhouse with cameras following his every move. As he walked, someone motioned to where he would get changed.

His locker for the day was placed between relief pitcher Justin Hampson and bullpen catcher Justin Hatcher. McCoy would don No. 8 on the back of his jersey. On this day, McCoy would be a Major Leaguer.

McCoy, 84, and a San Diego native, was drafted by the Padres in the special Negro Leagues Player Draft that preceded the First-Year Player Draft on June 5.

As a part of the Padres’ fifth annual Salute to the Negro Leagues at PETCO Park back on June 21st, McCoy got the opportunity to be a part of the Major Leagues for a day.

He parked in the players’ lot in his own spot and dressed in the locker room under the nameplate “McCoy 08.” Players came by his locker to introduce themselves.

McCoy and Padres closer Trevor Hoffman shared a quick laugh. McCoy and Padres catcher Michael Barrett shared a quick chat. History was sitting in that leather chair between Hampson and Hatcher.

“It is just a great way to connect with history,” said Padres vice president/senior advisor Dave Winfield, “connecting with a local man who is a great guy with a wealth of information who publicly may seem like a man of few words.”

“But the stories and his memory are vast and very clear.”

Winfield was all smiles as he spoke of the Padres’ involvement and continual support of honoring the Negro Leagues.

“I got the chance to play against guys that played in the Negro Leagues like Hank Aaron and Willie Mays,” Winfield said. “I’ve met so many guys over the years. They’re good men and good ambassadors for the game.”

“A lot of them are still around the game, and those who aren’t, we’ve brought them closer to the game. It was a major event with the 30 teams drafting a Negro Leaguer … that was great.”

The Padres hosted a luncheon and had a pregame ceremony to honor McCoy and the Negro Leagues. Among those in attendance were Hall of Famers Mays and Monte Irvin.

“I usually don’t come to things like this,” Mays said at the luncheon. “But Winfield called me and said ‘I have a bunch of your friends that made you what you are today.’ So I said, ‘I’ll be there.'”

Bob Motley, the last living Negro Leagues umpire, and Ozzie Virgil, the first man of color to play for the Detroit Tigers, first Dominican to play in the Majors and a former Padres coach, were also in attendance.

“I’m proud of Major League Baseball,” Winfield said. “Maybe we can share with other ballclubs some aspects of what we’re doing and they would like to try it as well.”