‘The Champ’ made his way across his home town of Scottsdale, Ariz. Tuesday to meet with the San Francisco Giants – a franchise that’s not exactly a fitting grappling partner for someone with a trophy case as full as Muhammad Ali’s.
But the three-time world champion boxer wasn’t in the Giants clubhouse to impart any secrets on how the organization can break its 56-year title drought. Instead Ali was there with a message of charity.
Ali, who lives in Scottsdale and has been debilitated by Parkinson’s disease, rarely makes public appearances anymore. These days when he does speak to a crowd, his words are barely audible – a far cry from the brash diatribes he’d fire off to the media and fans at the height of his powers.
Instead Ali was there to promote Athletes for Hope, a non-profit organization founded in 2007 by a group of athletes “dedicated to achieving excellence through their charitable work.” Founded by Ali, Andre Agassi, Lance Armstrong and Warrick Dunn, among others, that focuses on time and not money. Currently more than 1,000 athletes from 50 sports have joined the ranks of Athletes for Hope, committing themselves to community service and other philanthropic endeavors.
Along with AFH executive director Ivan Blumberg, Ali was asking current Giants to participate. The two seemed pleased with the response.
“Virtually every member of this team signed up,” Blumberg told the Associated Press.
It wasn’t just the players who were excited for their chance to meet the greatest athlete of the 20th Century. Giants Managing General Partner Bill Neukom, general manager Brian Sabean, and longtime equipment manager Mike Murphy were also eager to have their pictures taken with Ali.
Among the most excited visibly were Matt Cain, who flashed a broad smile, putting his fist next to Ali’s for a picture. Giants roving instructor Shawon Dunston, also seemed to cherish the experience.
“Everyone thought he just knocked people out. But he changed everything,” said Dunston, talking to MLB.com’s Chris Haft. “He stood up for what he believed. He made people realize that religion is not just for one set of people, it’s for everybody.”
Giants skipper Bruce Bochy, who’s grown accustom to welcoming greats like Willie Mays, Willie McCovey and Orlando Cepeda into his clubhouse in San Francisco on a regular basis, seemed honored to have the man known as “The Greatest,” pay his team a visit.
“There’s only one Muhammad Ali,” Bochy said. “Special day. That guy’s a hero, an icon. To have his presence in our clubhouse, I know the guys really enjoyed it. This guy is a champion not just inside the ring but outside it. He has influenced so many people in the world.”
Here’s more player reactions from the Giants after meeting Ali:
Video courtesy San Francisco Giants