Last night I was thrilled to be part of the crowd gathered to honor Ron Santo as his statue at Wrigley Field was unveiled. Ron’s family was there, along with former teammates Ernie Banks, Billie Williams, Fergie Jenkins, and many others. Current Cubs players stepped away from their game preparation to be part of the event. There were even players from the Nationals, the opposing team for the game last night. The crowd of onlookers filled the sidewalks, the streets, the restaurants and the balconies surrounding the event at the corner of Sheffield and Addison and the ceremony was broadcast on television.
It seems Ron Santo has always been a part of my life. Most recently, I enjoyed his broadcasts of the Cubs’ game, regardless of whether the Cubs were excelling or not. He and Pat Hughes were always entertaining. In his earlier days, he was exciting to follow as a player. Who would forget the 69 Cubs? Before that, I actually met Ron Santo, when I was just ten years old.
We didn’t have much money, but my mother wanted to take me on a vacation. She knew someone who owned (or managed) a hotel nearby and we went there for a few days away. It was toward the end of a hot summer and we spent our days out by the pool, my mother reading and sunbathing, me swimming in the pool. There wasn’t much to do in the pool and no other kids to play with and after a while I got bored. That evening, my mother bought me a big, bright, beach ball to keep me amused.
The next day when I was playing with my new ball, a group of five or six young men came out by the pool. They seemed happy and playful and asked if they could join me. Together, we played with the ball, batting it around and tossing it in and out of the pool. I would jump into the pool and they’d try to hit me with the ball. They volleyed it back and forth and threw it at one another. There was lot of yelling and laughing. I enjoyed their company and the attention. Eventually, their enthusiasm got out of hand and my new ball got broken. It was time for them to leave anyway.
After they left, my mother tried to tell me who it was I’d been playing with. She explained to me that they were Cubs players. It didn’t meaning anything to me because, at the time, I didn’t know the first thing about sports teams or baseball or Cubs. I just knew my new friends had left.
Ron Santo was one of those players. The next day he stopped back by the pool with a new beach ball. It was bigger and better than the one they had broken, but I didn’t enjoy it nearly as much without my new friends. They weren’t able to play that day because leaving town and wouldn’t be back until after we returned home.
Replacing my ball was an act of kindness consistent with who Ron Santo was. He had a big heart. He wore that big heart on his sleeve and bled Cubbie blue, as anyone who ever heard his broadcast knows. Over the course of his involvement with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, he was responsible for raising over $60,000,000. He was beloved by his family, friends, teammates and fans. Ron Santo, you will be missed!