Friday, October 16, 2015

Ernie Banks ... Mr. Cub ... "Let's Play 2"

The Chicago Cubs are knocking on the door of their first World Series appearance since 1908.

But to get there, they must first pass their final playoff test with the Mets. That National League Championship series begins Saturday.

Mr. Cub was Ernie Banks, of course, but despite his Hall of Fame career, he never got the chance to play in the World Series.

Even though as a kid I was a devoted fan of their arch rival St. Louis Cardinals, I also greatly admired the head 'Cubbie.' In addition to being a great player, Mr. Banks was a great man with a super positive attitude and totally optimistic view of life.

In fact, Mr. Cub loved playing the game of baseball so much that the phrase "Let's play 2" is now synonymous with the name Ernie Banks.

Chicagoans' Thoughts Turn to Mr. Cub is subtitled 'Taking on the New York Mets for a shot at the World Series that Ernie Banks never had.' It's a great tribute to a great man.
"It was an odd little nine-hole pitch-and-putt golf course that seemed quite out of place in downtown Chicago, shoehorned into a seemingly forgotten space between buildings and weed-strewn lots. The real estate just about begged for some developer to buy it up and construct high-rises. Which is what happened; the par-three golf course is now long gone.

But in the middle of the 1990s there it was, near grimy Lower Wacker Drive. One afternoon I took my son, who was then 9 or 10, to bang some balls around the almost deserted course.

After our quick round we went into the course’s snack bar/grill, where you could buy a burger or a Coke or a beer. We were sitting in a back corner when my son pointed to a table near the front. Two men were talking, their chairs angled so they were facing away from us.

“Is that Ernie Banks?” he asked, excitement in his voice.

It sure was. The most famous baseball player ever to wear a Chicago Cubs uniform: Mr. Cub. He was in his 60s by then, wearing shorts, a golf bag propped against his table. We hadn’t seen him out on the tiny course, so he had to have come in from the adjacent driving range.

“Do you think he’d give me an autograph?” my son asked.

Banks was deep in conversation with the other man. I had known Banks a little bit over the years in Chicago, but I thought if I made the approach, it would diminish the moment. When you’re seeking your first autograph, you don’t want your dad to do the asking. And Banks didn’t know we were back there in the corner.

So I told my son that if he wanted to give it a try, he should take a paper napkin and walk over. Which, with some trepidation, he did.

When I was his age, growing up in central Ohio, I would go to Soskin’s drugstore several times a week during baseball season and buy packs of Topps bubble gum, with baseball cards inside the waxy wrapper. If Ernie Banks, in his blue Cubs cap, was the slim, smiling face on one of those cards . . . well, that was a good day.

Now, a silent spectator in the corner of the snack bar, I watched my son approach the table with that napkin. I saw him say something to Banks.

Banks abruptly stood up. And walked right out of the building.

Aw, man. This was bad. I felt like I was at fault. I should have advised my son not to interrupt him while he was with his friend.

Through the window, I could see Banks in the parking lot. He walked directly to his car. So disheartening.

But he didn’t get in. Instead, he popped the trunk. I saw him reach for something. Then he returned to the restaurant.

As he came through the door, I saw what was in his hands. A baseball. And an 8-by-10 photograph of himself in his Cubs playing days.

Made me want to cry, the moment was so fine. He spoke to the boy he had never before met, then signed some words of good cheer and encouragement on the ball and on the photo. When my son came back, I asked what had happened. “I gave him the napkin and asked if he would sign it,” my son said. “He said, ‘I’ll do better than that.’ ”

I tell you this story not because, with Ernie Banks, it was rare, but because it was common. Banks, who died last January at age 83, is on a lot of people’s minds this week, especially people who live in Chicago, or who once did. The Cubs have not won a World Series since 1908. Teams that didn’t even exist when Banks was a Cub—the Florida (now Miami) Marlins, the Toronto Blue Jays, the Arizona Diamondbacks—have won World Series titles. Banks, during his brilliant 19-year Cubs career (he never played for any other team), didn’t get the chance to compete in one. To do so was what he wanted most.

He meant so much to the town, for so long. On Saturday night, the National League Championship Series between the Cubs and the New York Mets begins. Best-of-seven games to reach the World Series. Cubs fans know better than just about anyone else not to count their chickens. But so many of these players are so talented and so young: Kyle Schwarber and Javier Baez are 22. Jorge Soler and Kris Bryant are 23. Their lives on the diamond stretch out ahead of them.

I only hope they will come to know this: Big-league baseball is rife with statistics. But in the end, if you’re very lucky, the numbers are not what people will remember."

Summing Up

Go Cubbies.

Win it all, and do it for Mr. Cub.

That's my hope.

And that's my prediction too!

Thanks. Bob.

No comments:

Post a Comment