At about 11:30 PM Friday night, I received a message on my phone telling me that Mr. Cub, Ernie Banks had passed away at the age of 83. I was shocked. My best friend was sitting across the room and asked what was wrong. I told him, “Ernie Banks died.” The words hung in the air with my gut tied in knots, I immediately started dialing another friend to give him the news.
We are the millennial Cubs fans. None of us ever saw Ernie play, we were all born 13-14 years after he finished his Hall of Fame career. As Children we were in awe of Ryne Sandberg, Andre Dawson, and Mark Grace. As adolescents we cheered for Kerry Wood, Mark Prior, Sammy Sosa, and Moises Alou. Ron Santo was a man we knew from the radio and the infamous black cat photo. Ernie, Billy Williams, and Fergie Jenkins were men we learned about from Ron and Pat Hughes. We never experienced their greatness, but we felt like we knew them and we loved them just the same. I own two Cubs Jerseys with names on the back, one of those is Ernie Banks' number 14.
Despite never seeing Ernie play, he is the reason millennials are “typical” cubs fans, even though we felt the pain of the 2003 NLCS in real time and witnessed the playoff collapses at the end of the decade. We remain ever hopeful. Ernie's constant optimism, was infectious. We saw the smile when he made appearances at Wrigley Field and joined the radio and TV broadcast booths. We heard the excitement in his voice about the game he loved and taught us to love. Every year we say, “This is the year,” because Ernie's optimism told us it would be.
This season will mark my 30th year as a Cubs fan--I have the baby pictures to prove it—but it would have been Ernie's 62nd year as a Cub. The idea of a player spending that much time in and around one organization is something that will never be met again. Ernie didn't just teach us about optimism and hope. He taught us about loyalty and dedication. He's not just a legendary player, he's what Cubs fans strive to be.
The 2015 season is one of promise, an overloaded farm system, a solid young core group of position players and the addition of a true ace in Jon Lester has Cubs fans truly believing again. It is truly a shame that we lost Ernie on the eve of what could be a historic season for the Northsiders. We will never get the opportunity to see the smile on his face when the Cubs finally bring a World Series championship to the friendly confines. I hope the Cubs find a way to honor Ernie, they'll have opportunities this season, home games against the Reds on April and June 14th and the Mets on May 14th provide the best chances.
No matter what the team decides to do, I will honor Ernie by wearing his jersey to every game I attend this year. I never met the man, but he still meant so much to me--to all of us. I'm sure I will cry the first time I visit his statue this year. I know I will be sad as I say a prayer for his family. However, the sadness will turn to joy as I think about Ernie and Ron Santo laughing and watching over the Cubs together. I hope that we can all take a cue from those guys and celebrate the life of Mr. Cub this season.
When the sun shines on Wrigley Field and “Go Cubs Go” is playing over the speakers, Ernie will be there with us. He will always be here as long as we hold onto the hope for a sunny day, a double header, and a Cubs win.