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Jake Peavy Feels the Connection to Baseball and Willie Mays at Rickwood Field

When Jake Peavy was dealt to the San Francisco Giants just ahead of the trading deadline during the 2014 Major League Baseball season, he was welcomed to the organization with open arms. Throughout his preceding years in the major leagues, largely spent with the San Diego Padres and Chicago White Sox, he established himself as a premier pitcher with an ability to lead his team to victory.

Peavy ended up being a pivotal piece for the Giants down the stretch run as the team positioned itself to secure its third World Series championship in the span of six seasons. While in the clubhouse, he had the chance to converse with Hall of Fame outfielder Willie Mays and developed a friendship with him that continued after his career ended two years later.

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Peavy regarded it an honor to speak with Mays and longtime Giants clubhouse attendant Mike Murphy about the game of baseball and life in general. Peavy is from Mobile, Ala. while Mays grew up in nearby Westfield, Ala., a short distance away from historic Rickwood Field. Mays had played at the ballpark as a teenager, suiting up as an outfielder for the Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro American League. His talent was palpable and left an indelible mark on the game of baseball, accompanied by an aura and sense of humility that continued throughout the rest of his major-league career spanning over two decades.

“I had a great relationship with the two of them and sat in that office many days, and we talked about being from Alabama,” Peavy said. “I talked about [his] Rickwood Field days and Willie starting being in high school and not being able to go on the road and Willie’s father.”

Mays passed away peacefully among loved ones on Tuesday afternoon at the age of 93, a devastating loss of a sports icon synonymous with the game of baseball. On Thursday night, Rickwood Field, the ballpark in which Mays began his professional career, will host a Major League Baseball game for the first time when the San Francisco Giants face the St. Louis Cardinals. Earlier in the week, Mays released a statement divulging that he could not attend the game this year and emphasized that his heart would be with everyone honoring the Negro League ballplayers, hoping that it would be a source of enjoyment and inspiration for children.

The league will honor Mays’ life and legacy this week at Rickwood Field, with the inaugural event serving as a landmark to recognize the impact he made on the game and society at large. Peavy will be on set for MLB Tonight alongside host Greg Amsinger and analysts Chris Young and Adam Wainwright to break down the action on the field and also bring viewpoints and knowledge pertaining to the setting and its relevance in the history of the sport.

“I think the initiative is to spread the message of paying homage,” Peavy said. “I think that so often in today’s fast-moving society, we lose sight of learning from our ancestors and people who came before us and really respecting them.”

As an analyst with MLB Network, Peavy feels a gravity and responsibility to contribute to the growth of the game by being part of the conversation and using his platform to benefit the next generation.

“The fact that this game is direct homage at the history of Rickwood Field [and] the history of the Negro Leagues, which now needs to be more prevalent and that story needs to be told – it hasn’t accurately been told and [put] out there,” Peavy said. “You’re talking about Josh Gibson now, the new Babe Ruth, the most famous and the best statistical player that we’ve ever seen, and we’ve got to talk and tell that story to the new-age kids.”

Throughout his major-league career, Peavy gained respect for the media and became more cognizant about how sports teams and events are covered. Rick Sutcliffe was his first pitching coach with the San Diego Padres and later transitioned into a media career. Former Padres Hall of Fame outfielder Tony Gwynn became a color commentator after playing as well. A few years after Peavy retired, he became part of the MLB Network team and began appearing across programming. On the shows, he articulated his esoteric knowledge and thoughts on the game while maintaining relationships around the sport.

“Your uniqueness and the perspective… is what’s going to draw people to you – the authenticity of that – that’s where I’m at,” Peavy said. “I don’t want people to think that I’m lying to them on television [because] what I say, I’ve done some research behind and then I believe it. Whether it’s right or wrong, it’s my opinion and here it comes, and there’s some thought that’s been [somewhat] behind it.”

Over his two years on the airwaves, Peavy has grown to learn the nuance of television operations and perceives the baseball elements of the role as second nature. Being cognizant of the synchronicity across programs and how to compendiously articulate a message to the audience has been part of the learning curve and facets of the role in which he feels he has improved. Peavy will seek to blend his discernment of working in sports media with his experience visiting and playing at Rickwood Field to serve as an asset on the seminal broadcast.

“I love the game of baseball and I’m passionate about it and I want to grow it, so I’m really looking to take another step forward,” Peavy said. “I’ve done this at a high level at something else, baseball, and was able to win a Cy Young [Award] and to be a part of a World Series championship, so I want to put that same effort and focus into being a media member and really just give my best effort.”

Mobile, Ala. is the hometown of five members of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. Hank Aaron, Willie McCovey, Satchel Paige, Ozzie Smith and Billy Williams encompass this pantheon, and there are numerous other athletes and fans that have had the privilege to step foot into Rickwood Field. While Thursday night’s game is critical in the tight National League playoff race, the contest is also a fundamental reflection on the past, honoring those who paved the way for posterity to prosper and cultivate a love of the game.

“Rickwood Field is going to bring the best out in us if we let it, but for me, it’s not really scripting too much of the night,” Peavy explained. “Letting it be about what it is and feeding off that emotion in a nice way for it to manifest there in front of us kind of will be the biggest challenge.”

Derek Futterman
Derek Futterman
Derek Futterman is a contributing editor and sports media reporter for Barrett Media. Additionally, he has worked in a broad array of roles in multimedia production – including on live game broadcasts and audiovisual platforms – and in digital content development and management. He previously interned for Paramount within Showtime Networks, wrote for the Long Island Herald and served as lead sports producer at NY2C. To get in touch, find him on X @derekfutterman.

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