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!
Ernie Banks was one of the best of us. Despite being a Hall of Fame baseball player who was denied any sort of post-season activity by virtue of being a life-long Cub, he never showed any resentment. He never asked “Why not me?” as vastly less talented players got to taste the World Series and, later, playoffs. He always seemed happy to be alive, and the fact that he is no longer so is a terrible thing for the Cubs, baseball and the world at large.
The quote most associated with Banks is “It’s a beautiful day, let’s play two!” But according to Banks, the line had a bit more to it than people assume. Speaking to Richard Dean of the Houston Chronicle, Banks recalled,
“”It was about 105 degrees in Chicago, and that’s a time when everybody gets tired. I came into the clubhouse and everybody was sitting around and I said, ‘Beautiful day. Let’s play two!’ And everybody looked at me like I was crazy. There were a couple of writers around and they wrote that and it stayed with me.”
That was Banks in a nutshell. As an All-Star and future Hall of Famer, Banks could have sat in the clubhouse and sulked about having to play in the middle of the day in the heat of summer, but he didn’t, and that is what will be most closely associated with him, his sunny outlook on life.
Even once he retired, he was the face of the Cubs and remained so until his death. As blog readers will recall, I attended the 100th Anniversary of Wrigley Field and Banks was in attendance, and seemed to be in great health and, naturally, great spirits. He walked on the field with no assistive devices, visiting with teammates and old friends, looking more spry than some of the alumni years younger.
My personal recollection of Mr. Banks was at my very first Cubs Convention when I was 14. The Convention was less hectic than it is now, and you didn’t need to hit the lottery to meet with any of the players or celebrities. Naturally, Mr Banks was one of the more popular autographs to obtain, so I hopped in with the mob, hoping to get him to sign my baseball. My mom attended the convention with me and was pressed into duty as my personal photographer.
As she was positioning herself to get a good shot of Mr Banks and me, he looked up at her and said “Young lady, is your boy in this line?” My mother affirmed and all of a sudden he called for me. “Where’s your boy? Where’s your boy? You get him up here to me!”
I felt like I floated through the line and I shook his hand and he signed the one single-signed baseball I got that entire weekend. As you can see, almost 20 years later and I still tell the story of the time that Ernie Banks “hit on my mom.” It’s just a shame that I’ll never get to tell him the tale.
Goodbye, Mr Cub. I never saw you play in person, but I’ve seen the old tapes. Heck, I even made myself listen to Jack Brickhouse calling home run #500 tonight. I kept it together a little bit better than I did when I had heard you passed away, as I was sitting at the In ‘N Out burger tonight.
I know Harry and Ronnie were just waiting for you to get there, and I know that heaven looks a lot like Wrigley Field–in fact, I’d even swear there’s a little bit of ivy covering up those pearly gates tonight.
I’m sorry you never got to be a part of that World Series win at Wrigley, but don’t you worry. We aren’t going to forget you when the time comes. Keep smiling and remember, the sun is always shining up there and it’s always a doubleheader.
I miss you already.