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!