Happy Opening Day to the future 2018 World Series champion Chicago Cubs!
Happy Opening Day to the future 2018 World Series champion Chicago Cubs!
Happy 78th birthday to my inspiration, Hall of Famer, Ron Santo.
Not only was he a fellow diabetic who had made good, but he took the time out of his life to talk to a dorky little kid who shared a disease with him and made that kid feel like a million bucks.
The world needs more Ron Santos.
Happy birthday, hero.
David Ross has had a busy 12 months. He was a finalist on “Dancing With the Stars”, got a job as a commentator with ESPN, traveled the country for personal appearances…oh, and he did that ‘win the World Series’ thing too. With so much going on, even hardcore fans of the former Cubs backup catcher could be excused for missing the fact that in his ‘spare time’ Ross managed to write a New York Times best-selling book, “Teammate” as well.
Framing his baseball story through the lens of World Series Game 7, Ross discusses how he emerged from the ashes of being released by the Cincinnati Reds in 2008 to the high of winning the 2016 World Series, and in the process becoming one of the most valuable teammates in the game and certainly the most beloved backup catcher that baseball has ever seen.
As Ross says in the book, “I realized character could be as valuable as a home run, and my behavior and that attitude helped extend my career.”
It started with a small comment from Theo Epstein, after the 2008 season. Ross had joined the Boston Red Sox after being let go by the Reds and as he and Epstein discussed his future in Boston, Epstein felt he needed to inform Ross that he had gotten a reputation around the league as a bad teammate. That was the turning point for Ross.
Part autobiography, part self-help tome and even part journal kept during the 2016 season, “Teammate” had me anxiously turning to the next page to continue Ross’s remarkable story. In fact, I read the 272 pages in a single sitting.
I may have been slightly predisposed to like the book as a diehard Cub fanatic and David Ross fan, but my affection was more than just a fan service courtesy.
On the one hand, Ross provides insight and behind-the-scenes info on some of the Cubs biggest stories of the 2016 season, from the creation of the “Grandpa Rossy” persona to the emotionally charged meeting during the Game 7 rain delay. That in and of itself gives the book a great deal of value, but it was some of the other aspects that stuck with me.
After the meeting with Theo Epstein, Ross made a conscientious effort to be the best teammate that he could be and provide any team that he was a part of with more than just his baseball talent, but also the intangible benefit that provides. Throughout the book in between the insider stories of his career and personal life Ross shows practical examples of the key things that create a good, or even bad, teammate.
Though often based with a focus towards sports, the lessons Ross teaches in “Teammate” are equally appropriate being shared in a board meeting or classroom as they are on a ball field.
“Teammate” is a great book for anyone with an interest in some of the nitty-gritty of the 2016 World Champion Chicago Cubs or their beloved backup catcher. Beyond that, the morals and ‘teachable moments’ make the book valuable for anyone who want to be a better part of a team, be it athletic, business-oriented or even a family. Ross proves that even at the lowest low there can be lessons to learn and a chance to achieve more than ever seemed possible.
“Teammate: My Journey in Baseball and a World Series for the Ages” by David Ross and Don Yaeger is available in print and digital and earns 8/9 baseballs from Tripping Baseballs. Highly recommended.
Until next time,
Keep Tripping Baseballs.
Please allow a slight detour as I explain why.
Longtime readers of the blog have probably figured out that my health has not been the greatest over the past few years. In late 2016 I was diagnosed with kidney disease right as my Cubs were charging into the World Series. I had to go to a center and receive a dialysis treatment 3 days a week. That adds up.
Then, this spring, my doctors decided that I was able to continue my dialysis at home. The good part was not having to travel to the center several times a week. The bad part was that this type of dialysis took about 8 hours and sapped my energy. I could barely find it in me to eat, let alone go out to a game, surrounded by people in an environment that I have always considered to be high energy for myself.Recently I was approved for a dialysis machine, that allows me to do the entire treatment overnight as I sleep. It is much less intense and I mostly feel good afterwards when I wake up. This allows me a return to a relatively normal schedule, which means that one of the first things I wanted to do was get out to the ballpark!
My lovely wife, Lauren, and I picked a day off of work for her and began planning a game. Initially we were going to return to Lancaster to see the Jethawks, but shortly before gamely I started hearing some interesting rumors. It seemed that the injured, Mike Trout was getting ready to start his rehab and would begin working out with the 66ers.There were no guarantees that he would play right away but I’m a gambling man and bought 2 tickets for the first date that the Angels said would be his earliest return. I figured he would at least be working out with the team so we could watch him hit in batting practice and who knows? Maybe he’d be up for signing autographs.
Mike is a great signer at home in Anaheim, literally minutes away from my home, but luck has never been with me when he is signing and I’ve always missed out. A smaller ballpark, like San Manuel Stadium, home of the 66ers seemed to provide a much better opportunity.
So Lauren and I packed up baseballs, camera gear and a pretty sweet mix CD by me and headed up to San Bernardino. Along the way we stopped in to the Inland Empire’s favorite fast food, Baker’s Drive-Thru, and grabbed a couple of burgers for lunch.
I was afraid that the detour to Baker’s might throw off our timing to reach the ballpark, but we got there approximately 45 minutes before they were set to open the gates, which was an hour prior to first pitch.
It seems others had heard about the return of Mr. Trout (who the Angels had confirmed WOULD be playing that night.) There was a sea of #27 Angels jersey in the line, which appeared to be at least 100 people deep. By the time the gates opened, that number had at least tripled.After getting my bag checked I hobbled down to the third base side of the park and joined a mass of humanity with the same dreams of getting an autograph from Mr. Trout as I did. Having been in guest control in a former life I truly felt bad for the usher who was trying to keep the aisles clear for people who actually had tickets in the general vicinity. He was very kind and never lost his cool, so props to Darrell of the 66ers!
We stood. And we waited. Not only had Mike not come out by approximately 20 minutes to game time, but suddenly there was the announcement that strikes fear into the heart of all stadium autograph seekers.
“At this time we ask that you please return to your assigned seats.”
Honestly, I would have, but I was literally stuck in a mob of people with no way out. Darrell was not pleased that no one was leaving. I’m sorry Darrell!By this time Mike had come out and after signing autographs for the Little League team that was being honored on the field, headed down the left field line to warm up.
With the announcement having been made and the fact that it was mere minutes from the first pitch I figured I would have to chalk this up to a ‘close but no cigar’ encounter, but I was still trapped next to the dugout in a hot, sweaty mass of humanity.And then it happened. Mike came down to our little section and began signing. He mostly hit up the kids, but I’m not ashamed to say that I was able to hand over my baseball and get it back signed. I didn’t push, I didn’t cheat and I didn’t screw over any kids. I was pretty pleased with my quarry. Anything else that happened this night would be mere icing on the cake.
I found Lauren who had cooled down with a shave ice while I was Trout fishing and we got a lemonade to cool me down and found a nice shaded picnic area in which to relax. We rested and I rushed down to try to get some photographs of Mike’s first at-bat.In addition to being Mike Trout Day (unofficial) it was a celebration of SPAM’s 80th birthday (official). I love SPAM. Lauren likes SPAM. It seemed natural that we would enjoy some of the SPAM-centric snacks available. I was getting hungry again, so Lauren went exploring and reported back with the specialty SPAM menu. I felt that the “Grilled Cheesy Bacon Melt,” described as “Thick slabs of griddled Texas Toast loaded with bacon, cheese, more bacon and even more cheese!” with an addition of diced SPAM would hit the spot and the SPAM musubi would also be a nice treat. This is the point where the wheels fall off of our lovely adventure.
It seemed to me that Lauren had been gone a while, like 3 innings at least, and I was beginning to worry when my fast dying cell phone buzzed at me and I got a text saying “Still waiting.” She made it back to me shortly thereafter, and was obviously not happy.
We don’t know why, but it took over 40 minutes to make my sandwich. There was no warning that this was going to be an issue, and most appallingly, there was no apology for the wait afterwards. Not even an obviously false one. In addition, the musubi and bottle of water we ordered was given to her upon paying. The water had 40 minutes to warm up and the musbui had the same amount of time to cool down and slightly congeal. Lauren was not the only one with this problem. There were several others at the stand livid about the treatment and many cancelled their orders and demanded refunds.
I understand that this is a Class-A ballpark. I understand that the SPAM items are a specialty and that the high school kids in the concession stands are probably not overly familiar with them. I do NOT understand where an “I’m sorry for your wait” or even some indication that what was happening was unacceptable was never offered. I’m not saying offer a discount or comp the food or anything like that. However, a bit of human decency is not difficult to muster up and, to me, seems like an automatic response.
This experience cast a very negative light over our whole time at the ballpark and will likely color any future visits; but it doesn’t matter to the concessionaires. They’re just high school kids working for minimum wage and couldn’t care less if their attitudes cost the team, or at least their concession stand, customers. It was just a shame.That being said, the sandwich was delicious. Tons of orange American cheese melted on standard white bread with little jewels of bacon and SPAM sprinkled throughout and decorating the top. I destroyed the thing. Might have considered another if I thought I could get it before the game ended. The musubi was a bit of a disappointment. As stated earlier, it had gotten cold and the rice began to solidify as the SPAM was disintegrating into a cold grease bomb. We were only able to eat a few bites. The warm water was wet and that was all we asked of it, though a cool drink would have been nice.
We decided to leave the picnic area at this point and look around the stadium itself. It was a nice little ballpark that to me was very reminiscent of an MLB Spring Training facility.
As we walked past one particular point of the concourse there was a line of people, probably 40-50 deep. Lauren asked me what was going on, and I was stumped for a minute and then my brain clicked.“They are out here waiting for Mike Trout to leave after the game!” I said. Considering that he was only at that point coming up for his final at-bat and then would have to shower, get ready to go and likely handle some media requests, those folks were in for a long wait. I hope they did well.
The team store was nice. It had a pretty decent selection of things, including a Mike Trout 66ers shirsey, but my wife says I have too many t-shirts already (I do) and nothing else in the store particularly struck my fancy. There were some nice hats, but at the price point, I’m not sure I would have gotten the value out of wearing them, so we left the shop empty-handed. I was also surprised to not see any game-used items for sale. Usually team shops will have a bucket of cracked game-used bats and maybe a few other items, but there were none to be found.It was at about this time that we decided to head out, so we took a few last photos and headed to the car.
Overall, I achieved what I came to do and the ballpark itself was nice and had a very strong community vibe. A lot of the fans seemed to know each other and spent a lot of time visiting with each other and catching up on life. There was a very positive energy that I enjoyed.
Sadly the food incident really did color the entire evening, but we are willing to revisit San Manuel Stadium, perhaps on a normal weeknight when one of the greatest players in the MLB isn’t in town and see what kind of experience we have then.I’m hoping to be able to add some more entries on here soon, so until next time, keep trippin’ baseballs! As always, my full complement of photos can be found here
The 2013 draft was an exceptional one for the Chicago Cubs. Not only did they reap the benefits of suffering through a dismal 61-101 record in 2012 by getting to draft future superstar Kris Bryant with the 2nd pick, but they managed to snap up Trevor Clifton as well. Clifton was expected to be drafted in approximately the 5th round. However, a strong commitment to the University of Kentucky had many teams wary of spending a draft selection on the tall right-handed pitcher out of Tennessee. The Cubs liked what they saw in Clifton enough to take a chance on him in the 12th round and offer him a large signing bonus of $375,000, which was enough to break with Kentucky and join the Cubs organization. It’s looking like a good investment for the Cubs, so far.
Standing at 6’1 and weighing in at 170, with room to grow, Trevor Clifton draws comparisons to another right-handed hurler who was once in the Cubs system but found success elsewhere, Chris Archer. Like Archer, Clifton had a bit of a slow start to his career, but has learned from early adversity and spends every season trying to improve on his success.
“My goal each year is to be better each year in every part of my game,” says Clifton. “That’s the only way for a steady climb.”
Moving thousands of miles from home to begin a professional baseball career is an intimidating concept. When you combine that with barely turning 18 and graduating from high school, it is downright overwhelming and Clifton reasonably struggled in his first professional season, posting no wins and a 6.97 ERA in 8 games and 10 innings pitched. That was the last time that any numbers put up by Clifton would be referred to as ‘gaudy’ in a negative sense.
Over the next 3 seasons, Clifton’s ERA would never finish above a 4.00 and he averages just about one strikeout per inning pitched. Oh, and about those innings? Clifton has thrown over 100 of them for the past 2 seasons, so his durability, often a concern with pitchers drafted straight out of high school, doesn’t seem to be an issue.
Clifton’s slow and steady progress paid real dividends during the his 2016 campaign with the Myrtle Beach Pelicans where he was named Pitcher of the Month twice, earned the save in the All-Star Game and ultimately was named the Carolina League Pitcher of the Year. He also just so happened to lead the Pelicans to the Carolina League Championship and is currently ranked in the Cubs’ top 10 prospects. Not a bad resume for a young pitcher who is still just 21 years old. Aside from the natural maturing process, what changed for Clifton in 2016?
“A whole lot of stuff, from mechanics to preparation to arm care. My biggest change, by far, was the mental side of the game. I went in to last season with confidence in my pitches and slowing the game down.”
Given his steady rise through the Cubs system it seems likely that Clifton will at least begin the season with the Tennessee Smokies, conveniently located about 4o minutes from his hometown of Maryville.
“I’m very excited about this upcoming season and seeing my family in the stands,” says Clifton. “A lot of players don’t get to experience that. My family means the world to me.”
That’s not to say that Clifton is going to take it easy in front of the local fans. “I enjoy seeing everyone’s support from my hometown. It makes me feel accountable.”
Clifton received an award this off-season from his hometown before even throwing a professional pitch there when his former high school retired his baseball number.
“I’ve had a lot of awards throughout my career, but having my number retired around the closest people to me was by far the best. I loved getting to spend that success with Heritage [High School] and my hometown.”
Clifton’s dedication to his family and friends gives insight into the man behind the athlete and fits in perfectly with the Cubs’ character-driven mindset.
“My family means the world to me and they’ve always been really supportive from t-ball until now, so I guess I don’t know any better. I think as a player you have to earn the fans’ respect and attention. I also have some great fans and followers I see throughout my social media and love conversations with them.”
Cubs fans, if you don’t know Trevor Clifton yet, consider this your introduction. It’s very possible that Clifton will be called up to AAA Iowa at some point this season, and from there a September call-up would be certainly within the realm of possibility.
“Now pitching for your Cubs, Number 25, Trevor Clifton!” may be heard at Wrigley Field sooner than we all may think. With his raw skills and positive attitude, Clifton has every chance to be a Wrigley Field stalwart.
“The region is altogether valueless. After entering it, there is nothing to do but leave.”
Lt. Edward Beale, Congress report on Arizona, 1858
While I don’t completely agree with the good lieutenant, I must say that I am glad to be home. You see, we weren’t intending on going to Spring training this year. My health is still a bit dodgy and being away from our home base is a bit scary right now. We aren’t habitual Spring Training junkies, but have been a few times and I’ve always had a good time. I had a lot of fun this time as well, but it was a little different from I had expected.
The impetus for even going down at all was the wedding of two of our closest friends, who happened to be from Phoenix. Which happened to be on my birthday. Which happened to be over the weekend of my birthday. When the universe clearly wants you to go Spring Training, you go!
For my birthday gift, my wife gave me her credit card and let me get tickets to all of the games I wanted to attend, which–after I restrained myself–wound up being 4 games. I found a Motel 6 close to both Sloan Park and the dialysis center that I would be utilizing twice during our short stay and booked our room.More details on that to follow.
That is far too long of a prologue, so lets just jump right into day 1.
We ended up leaving our house a bit later than intended, but other than one issue with CD selection (Yes children, old people still use physical media to listen to music) the drive was uneventful. Traffic was easy until we hit the outskirts of Phoenix, but we still made it to Scottsdale Stadium just a little bit after the Giants v. Puerto Rico game had begun. We immediately saw an issue. After driving around the ballpark and nearby environs there was literally no parking. All the lots were either full or blocked off with “Non Event Parking” sign. We even tried to find a place to park away from the ballpark and having a car service take us to the game with no avail. By this point it was getting late and we hadn’t eaten anything for many hours, so we cut our losses and changed our quest to find lunch.
Fortunately nearby was a restaurant serving Cornish pasties–as well as air conditioning, so we went in for a fine lunch topped off with an amazing banoffee pie and began to feel human again. at this point it was late enough to check in to our motel, so we headed in that general direction.
After a quick trip to the Walmart, which was decked out in Cubs merchandise, we arrived at our temporary home.
Do you ever get a strange feeling that things aren’t good and might soon get much worse? That was the feeling in my gut as we checked in. Don’t get me wrong, all the staff that we dealt with during our stay were perfectly nice. Very helpful and professional, even “upgrading” us to a handicapped room with no extra charge.
The room though? Not so good. The sort of place that you’d expect Norman Bates to work at, were “Psycho” set in 2017. Upon walking into our non-smoking room we were hit by a cloud of nicotine–something that persisted throughout our stay minus the one day when nicotine was swapped for pot smoke. There was a dirty boot print in our shower and the whole place looked like it had been cleaned by a disinterested teenager. Yes, I should have complained, but I was afraid any other room would be worse, so we soldiered on and kept the room.
Eventually we fell asleep and were not murdered in the night. I set those odds at 50-50.
Today was exciting because we were going to see the 2016 World Champion Chicago Cubs (I never get tired of saying that and love getting to refer to them as such) at Sloan Park, a ballpark I had yet to see since it opened only a few years ago. With Arizona ignoring Daylight Savings Time, I mentally thought that the game started at 12:05, the same as at home, so we arrived an hour sooner than expected. Oops. They soon opened the gates and we found our way inside and immediately grabbed some hot dogs, pretzels and water. We headed down to our seats and ate our lunch, fortunately, in some of the rare shade. The game against the Mariners was fun, not counting the final score, and it was good to see Bryant, Rizzo and the rest of the crew at it again, as well as see prospects like Eloy Jiminez in person.
Sloan Park is gorgeous and I do wish we had explored it a bit more, but the shady seats were too tempting to leave and so we remained sedentary for the length of the game. The timing worked out perfectly for us to enjoy the ballgame and get to my dialysis appointment in Mesa on time.
I did manage to get my photo with the Sloan Park marquee before we left though. I DO have my priorities after all.
After my 4 hours getting my blood cleaned we grabbed a quick bite to eat and headed back to the motel of doom for the night. As you can no doubt tell, we are some late night party animals. Like the kids in the pool. Right outside of our room. Until after midnight.
Today we were headed to Tempe to see the Padres play the Angels. Looking back on it now, I don’t know why we didn’t just go and see the Cubs play the Mariners in Peoria, but seeing 2 of my favorite teams play each other was not a bad option either.
On the way we stopped for breakfast at a Whataburger, which I had never tried before. It had been described to me as “the Texas In ‘n Out” so I had to try it. Though it was breakfast time I felt the need to get the eponymous burger, but lo! On the breakfast menu was biscuits and gravy…one of my all time favorite meals. Decisions, decisions. In the end, although my appetite has been waning as of late, I ordered both. And finished them too.
While eating, a woman at a table across from us asked me about my cane and other, increasingly personal questions, which I answered, since I generally don’t know when to shut up. We finished our meals, ended the conversation and continued on to Tempe Diablo Stadium, home of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim…who train in Tempe, Arizona. Why not add a few more locations for the poor Angels?
Unfortunately unlike Sloan Park there were virtually no shaded seats at Tempe Diablo Stadium and I started to bake from the moment I sat in our seats watching the teams warm up. Kindly, Lauren went and got us a huge frozen margarita concoction to try to cool us down. Yes, I realize that alcohol probably has an adverse effect on remaining hydrated, but it was delicious. More importantly it was cold.
We downed that sucker fast enough that I didn’t even have time/ presence of mind to get a photo. The bottom of the drink vessel was actually molded into a baseball which Lauren wanted to keep, but was rebuffed by an usher as we left and forced to throw it away. We will never forget you, margarita baseball.
By the second inning the sun was beating down on my poor little body and we decided to leave the seats in favor of shade. It turns out that many people were doing the exact thing that we were and the mass of humanity clogged the concourse and made it extra hard just to walk around, let alone pop into the team store.
We decided that for the sake of my health (we still had a wedding reception and yet one more game to attend on our Arizona adventure) we should leave and go back to the air-conditioned motel room, to rest before dialysis.
I must have looked the way that I felt, because a kindly usher had me sit down for a moment and called to have a cart come to drive us over to our car. Unfortunately, once at the car we were blocked in by a fire truck parked directly behind us. We sat in the car for at least 20 minutes until a firefighter came back and moved the truck and in doing so, free our car.
We drove back to the motel where I had a short and cool nap. Our room hadn’t been cleaned yet, nor would it be that entire day.
I had my dialysis and then immediately began my backslide with dinner at The Cracker Barrel. We only recently got one in California and it’s a bit of a drive from our home–not that Phoenix isn’t–so on the rare occasion that we find one we are there!
We returned to our uncleaned room, got new towels from the front desk and looked forward to a long sleep in, since the following day was baseball-free.
I’ll try to keep this short since there is virtually no baseball connection. Today was my birthday, as well as the reception for our friends’ wedding. They had done a real wedding ceremony, very small, the day prior and then had their reception at a local barcade. For those unaware, a barcade is a combination bar and arcade, generally featuring older video games for those of us that grew up playing them.
There was lots of good food, good drinks, virtually unlimited free games and so a good time was had by all.
That evening, Lauren and I planned on going to a charity function to raise money for clean drinking water in the Dominican Republic and reportedly featuring many baseball players in attendance. Since I had been virtually shut out of autographs the whole trip, I thought this would be a fun way to celebrate my birthday. The universe had other plans and struck Lauren down with some sort of bug, so we got halfway to the venue and turned around to go back to the motel. We grabbed some Sonic for me and called it a night.
Today was our last day in Arizona and we were pumped to see the 2016 World Champion Chicago Cubs (I told you I loved saying it) take on the Oakland A’s at the Cubs old ballpark, Hohokam Stadium. I was primed and ready to go. Earlier I had visited the Walmart again and gotten all sorts of defense against the sun. Cooling towels, sunscreen and a big floppy hat were amongst the items purchased.
We took a little bit of time before going to the ballpark, which was very impressive to me. No, it isn’t as pretty or nicely designed like Sloan Park or Camelback, but it has a lot of charm and I would choose it ahead of the Brewers park in Maryvale or even Tempe Diablo Stadium.
The A’s have really made it their own, with history on display throughout the concourse. There was even some living history as Rollie Fingers, Bert Campaneris, George Foster and Blue Moon Odom were on hand to greet fans and sign autographs for a small donation. The Cubs and the Fergie Jenkins Foundation do a similar thing at Sloan Park and I think opportunities like that are really a cool thing for fans.
I grabbed a basic hot dog, which was at least a foot long, and we got to our seats. Stamper the Elephant was cavorting around and playing with kids as we waited for the game to begin. Once again we really had no shade and I literally went through 2 bottles of water before the first pitch was thrown. I tried to tough it out, but the unjust kicked my butt, even with all of my sun gear in place.
We saw Jake Arrieta pitch a few innings, watched my boys hit and slowly made our way out of the park and began our long drive to my parents’ house in San Diego.
The one big benefit of driving to San Diego rather than Orange County is the fact that you travel by way of Yuma, Arizona, home of Chretin’s Mexican Restaurant. I’ve known about Chretin’s since I was a child. One of my pajama shirts in childhood was a Chretin’s t-shirt.
My dad used to fly for the Navy and there was a landing site in Yuma. Whenever they’d land there, they would head over to Chretin’s for magaritas and the famous Chretin’s “killer nachos.” It got to be a competition as to who could eat the most nachos, with the reigning champ getting his name painted on the wall. Sadly, the old building is no more, but the “killer nachos” live on in a new location.
Had we not stopped in, I think my family may have disowned us. The nachos were amazing and the margaritas were good, cold and cheap. We left perfectly content, even ordering a dozen nachos to-go for my family.
We got to my parents’ house safely and were thrilled to sleep in a bed that we knew had clean sheets.
Overall, it was a good time and I’d like to head down again next spring. I’ll need to find some defenses and new strategies to fight the sun and begin collecting my pennies so we can stay in a place a slight bit better than the Mesa Motel 6. Next year I’d like to get out to the back fields to check out the minor league guys and maybe check out some “B” games as well.
I’m already looking forward to it!
Until next time, keep tripping baseballs!
Full set of edited photos is found here!
Today would have been the 77th birthday of Cubs Hall-of-Famer, Ron Santo, and, as possibly the biggest Cubs fan ever (present company excluded) it’s fitting that the first game of Spring Training falls today.
Ron Santo is probably my all-time favorite Cub. When I was a lot younger, it was Ryne Sandberg–and I still love him–but then something happened in my life that gave Santo the edge. Allow me to ramble for a moment and I promise, it’ll all come back to baseball in the end.
I was 11 years old in 1993 and a fairly normal kid–health-wise, anyway– until the fateful day in December when my parents took me to the doctor after I had been exhibiting flu-like symptoms. We left that appointment not with a new prescription, but with a new diagnosis. I was diabetic.
That is somewhat earth-shattering, particularly to a kid with an insanely wicked sweet tooth, but I remember my mom telling me that she remembered that a player for my beloved Cubs from years ago had been a diabetic too. I took quite a bit of comfort in this knowledge and tried to find out everything I could about this new kindred spirit. You see, kids? Representation DOES matter.
Fast forward a few years to 1997. I was a freshman in high school and I struck a deal with my mom that if I achieved a certain GPA we would go to this “Cubs Convention” that I’d been hearing about all summer on WGN. I buckled down, got the required marks and we were off to the frozen tundra of Chicago in the middle of January–one of the main reasons my mom had moved to California in the first place.
Many stories from that first convention still stick out in my memory, but none more so than the moment that cemented Ronnie in my heart forever.
I was standing in the hotel lobby where the convention was held, trolling for autographs when a large mob of people began making its way to the elevators. I looked more closely and saw that it was Ron Santo with autograph hounds in tow.
I managed to make my way to the great man and handed him my baseball. He signed it and started to move on. My mind working a mile a minute managed to allow me to blurt out “I’m diabetic too!”
It was as if the world stood still.
All of a sudden Ron forgot about everyone else surrounding him and focused all of his attention on the nerdy 14-year-old that was me.
“How is it working out for you? How are your blood sugar numbers?”
I answered that I was doing ok and he nodded and told me that it was really important to keep everything under control. He then went back to his many admirers.
Th whole encounter couldn’t have taken more than a minute but it still resonates in me to this day.
As I get older and the complications of the disease continue to ravage my body like they did to my idol, eventually taking both of his legs, one of my calming techniques is to think back to Ron and his optimism. I’m not stupid enough to think that every day was sunshine and butterflies for him, but overall he handled himself with grace and kindness, never giving up the fight for a cure one day, and hey, if the Cubs can finally win a World Series and Santo can finally get into the Baseball Hall of Fame, a cure for diabetes can’t be too far behind, right?
Happy Birthday, Ronnie. I miss you a lot.
If you are interested in more details about Ron Santo’s story, his son made an amazing documentary called “This Old Cub” and you can find it on iTunes and here!