As baseball tipped a cap to Juan Marichal this week upon the 50th anniversary of his famous duel with Warren Spahn, two brothers from San Francisco recalled their own place in history.
For them, July 2, 1963 represents the night Willie Mays crushed a 16-inning home run into the Candlestick Park bleachers -- where Jim Crilly pounced on the ball and held on for dear life.
"Even on the bus going home, I kept the ball in my pocket and kept my hand on that ball," he says now. "I was not going to let go of my ball."
Dozens of people wrote to this newspaper in reaction to Tuesday's story recounting the night Marichal and Spahn, two future Hall of Famers, carried shutouts into the 16th inning before the Giants defeated the Milwaukee Braves 1-0 on Mays' one-out blast.
Fans wanted to share their own stories of what they saw that night, many of them memories of a father or friend who had shared the experience. But the Crillys' letter stood out because of their claim to a piece of history. They say that the Mays home-run ball now resides on a bedroom desk in Southern California.
In follow-up phone interviews, Jim and Mike recalled how they managed to get the ball that night and shared stories from the ball's travels over the past half-century.
For example, there was the time Mike Crilly sneaked the ball past a security team of nuns.
Crilly had a summer job doing maintenance work at St. Mary's Medical Center in San Francisco. A few years after the famous home run -- Mike thinks it was probably 1967 -- the Say Hey Kid came in as a patient. Upon hearing that Mays was on the premises, Crilly brought the souvenir ball into work, as well as a copy of a 1963 newspaper, figuring he could just breeze into Mays' ward and ask him for an autograph.
Instead, he was shooed away by the stern nuns stationed there to ensure the patients' privacy. Mike Crilly moped back to his boss . . . who promptly cooked up a ploy for getting past security.
The boss handed the kid a box of light bulbs and a tool box, giving him a plausible cover story for slipping from room to room with interference. Crilly says he knocked on about seven doors before sliding into a room where Mays was reclining comfortably on a chair.
Mays signed the ball; Crilly changed the lights in his bathroom.
"When he hit that ball that night (in 1963) we didn't think of it as something from the Spahn-Marichal game," he recalled. "It was a Willie Mays ball. That was the big deal for us."
Marichal signed the ball, too, when Mike Crilly stumbled upon an autograph signing at a San Bruno shopping center. Crilly ran home, got his goods, and raced back.
The Dominican Dandy liked seeing the ball, but he was more interested Crilly's old newspaper. Marichal flipped straight to the box score and relived the details, delighted to see Hank Aaron's 0 for 6 all over again.
The guy sitting next to Marichal said, "Hey, there's a photo of me." It wasn't until then that Crilly realized Orlando Cepeda was there, too. His autograph now graces the ball and the newspaper as well. (Crilly says the two Giants legends also persuaded the show's organizer to waive the autograph fee).
The ball now sits on the bedroom desk of Jim Crilly's 21-year-old son, Tim, who lives in Sierra Madre, near Pasadena.
The big surprise is that Jim Crilly, now 63, ever let go of the ball at all. He says he had just finished his eighth grade year at St. Anne School in San Francisco when he and Mike, one year older, took the Muni bus out to Candlestick Park to sit in the cheap seats.
By the bottom of the 16th, Mike was shivering in his parka and wondering if the game would ever end when Mays blasted a hanging screwball from Spahn into the midnight sky. The ball skittered between Mike's legs. That's when Jim smothered it like a linebacker diving on a fumble.
"And I would not get up until everyone went away," Jim said. "Every kid wants a home run ball. But this was a Willie Mays home run ball. Mike had caught a foul ball the year before, hit by Smoky Burgess, and dammit I was going to get this one.
"I got it. And I wasn't going to let it go."
Follow Daniel Brown on Twitter at twitter.com/mercbrownie.