Eight months removed from watching one of the three biggest sports spectacles in my life, the Chicago Cubs winning the World Series, I find myself still watching and checking in on the Cubs frequently. Oddly, the losses, of which there has been too many this season, don’t have the same effect on me as they used to. It’s as if just knowing that that damn goat is dead and the curse is gone, at least in my lifetime, an immense weight has been lifted off my shoulders. I’m reasonably sure there will be another World Series title in my future. (The other two spectacles were the 1980 US Hockey Team win over Russia and the 1995 Green Bay Packers winning the Super Bowl – just in case you were interested.)
I got home late Friday night but managed to catch the end of the game, in which the Cubs were one down in the ninth to Pittsburgh and came back to score 6 runs in the top of the ninth to win the game. Catching up what had transpired earlier, I learned that first baseman Anthony Rizzo had homered in his third consecutive game at the lead-off position, only to have the umpire take it away from him AFTER it had already been called a homer. This led to Joe Madden getting ejected before the first out had been made, a major league record.
In many ways, Rizzo reminds me of my very first favorite Chicago Cub, Ernie Banks. They seem to have the same aura, respect, and exuberance for the game. They aren’t the most talented players on the field, but they give 110% once they don those Cubby Blue uniforms. It’s really hard to explain, but one just feels it. Does that make sense to you?
To say I was a rabid Ernie Banks fan would be a colossal understatement. I named my first puppy, who lived past 15 years – well into my married life – after Ernie Banks. While some would not believe it to be an honor to have a dog name after them, I assure you, as an 11-year-old boy, that was the highest tribute I could give to my favorite ball player.
Ernie Banks, the player (not the dog) was well past his prime by the time I was old enough to appreciate his talents and accomplishments, which were many. Looking back on it now, I can’t even honestly say why he became my favorite player – he just was! Both of the other rabid Cubs fans I hung with at the time, Chris and Tracy, hated Ernie because Ron Santo was their favorite player – which was a sentiment quite common at the time. Just like the fact you can't be both a Sox fan and a Cubs fan, at that time, you could not like both Ronnie and Ernie – one was to be cherished and the other despised. Just because.
The following is a list of Ernie’s accomplishments, and I would bet most every ardent Cub fan reading this doesn't know most of them:
Obviously, there was quite a bit more to the man than what most people remember as an old ballplayer running all over Chicago with a million-dollar smile saying “let’s play two today.”
For some reason, watching Anthony Rizzo play baseball for the Chicago Cubs reminds me in some way of Ernie. I don’t know why – he just does. I never got that sensation watching the other schmucks who played first base since, notably (or infamously) such Jim Hickman, Billy Buckner, Leon Durham, Mark Grace, Fred McGriff He-Sop Choi, or Derek Lee. Maybe it’s just the confidence and/or the shear love of everything that is Chicago Cubs that you didn't feel in those other first sackers.
Someday, I envision Rizzo’s #44 retired by the Chicago Cubs, hopefully atop the right field foul pole where he knocks balls over frequently.