SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Hall of Famers Willie Mays, Willie McCovey and Orlando Cepeda are regular visitors around the San Francisco Giants.
But when Muhammad Ali showed up in the clubhouse Tuesday to tout his Athletes for Hope charity campaign, players, coaches, clubbies and even the general manager and owner stood in line for photos with the 68-year-old former heavyweight champion.
"I thought he was going to react and give me a right hand in the chin," catcher Bengie Molina joked. "I was afraid."
Right-hander Matt Cain put his pitching fist up to Ali's left fist. Mays greeted Ali in an adjacent conference room before leaving the ballpark following the closed-door meeting.
"I know Ali," Mays said afterward, refusing to speak further about their friendship.
Ali, who lives in Scottsdale, suffers from Parkinson's disease. He rarely talks in public and speaks in a barely audible whisper.
"It's great," pitcher Dan Runzler said of meeting the man known as "The Greatest."
Athletes for Hope has more than 1,000 members in 50 sports committed to community service and other charitable activities. Along with Ali, the organization boasts Andre Agassi, Mia Hamm and Lance Armstrong among its founding members. The focus is on donating time, not money.
"Virtually every member of this team signed up," said Ivan Blumberg, Athletes for Hope chief executive officer. Ali visited the San Diego Padres on Monday and will head to Reds camp Wednesday.
Meeting Ali will be among the highlights of the spring for many of the Giants.
"It's exciting. He is one of the greatest," said left-hander Jonathan Sanchez, who threw an improbable no-hitter last July 10. "To have someone like him here makes you be better every day. This is different (than the Hall of Famers). This makes you feel like you want to get up every day and battle."
Manager Bruce Bochy, GM Brian Sabean, longtime equipment manager Mike Murphy and even managing partner Bill Neukom took their turns in the chair next to Ali for pictures.
"There's only one Muhammad Ali," Bochy said after his team's 6-2 win over the Chicago White Sox. "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."