By Chris Emma-
(CBS) First pitch was hours away, and the friendly confines of Wrigley Field were empty. That white flag with No. 14 was flying high above the left-field flag pole.READ MORE: Chicago Police Restrict Time Off For Officers Amid Battle Between City Hall, FOP Over COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate
The Cubs were set to host the New York Yankees, a historic matchup for the baseball purist. In its 100th season of baseball, Wrigley Field would welcome the Bronx Bombers on a warm summer day. The prevailing storyline was that Derek Jeter, the future Hall of Fame shortstop, was visiting Chicago, with cameras and microphones following his every step.
I was lucky enough to be sitting in the visitors’ dugout some four hours before Jason Hammel matched up with Masahiro Tanaka in what seemed like an ordinary day at the ballpark last May. It was just me, not a soul in site, looking toward that famous scoreboard. Then, suddenly, a familiar voice echoed.
Ernie Banks, Mr. Cub, entered through the tunnel into the empty dugout with a purpose. He held a wooden baseball bat in hand and had his niece to his side. He approached me, a 20-nothing too busy texting, and caught me by surprise.
“Where’s Jeter?” Banks asked.
Upon a quick glance, the field was empty, the dugout was cleared and the clubhouse had just a few Yankees to be seen.
“Have you seen Jeter?” he questioned again with true sentiment.
Ernie Banks died suddenly on Friday night at the age of 83. His memories will live on forever, with stories like this — a baseball great with candor for all to enjoy. He treated everyone he met the same, like a friend.READ MORE: City Officials, Community Leaders Hit Streets To Urge People To Get First COVID-19 Shots, Boosters, And Flu Shots
On that afternoon, Banks caught me completely caught off guard. There’s a statue of this man outside the main entrance to this historic ballpark at Clark and Addison. “Let’s play two” was the catchphrase for the optimism Banks held on a daily basis. He embodied the role of Mr. Cub.
Before many games at Wrigley this past summer, even with the Cubs’ hopes so bleak, Banks sat in the dugout with a smile on his face and a story to tell. He treated a first-year columnist who lacked a clue the same as a longtime friend. He would sit, talk and care.
That was Ernie Banks.
It’s the same man who once approached a high school kid having lunch at Harry Caray’s and asked about his college future. “Live your dream,” Banks said of a career in journalism. He genuinely cared about each person along the 83 years of hugs, handshakes and stories.
But on this particular day, Banks was searching for Jeter, the Yankee legend. His niece followed his trail, looking after the Cubs great. It was a moment Mr. Cub had longed for — spending time with Jeter, just as he would a fan that approached him at the ballpark.
The two shortstops soon met, with Banks offering his bat as a retirement gift to Jeter. They posed for a few pictures, but this wasn’t meant for a media gathering. Banks wanted a personal moment with the Yankee captain. He told stories of Wrigley, his storied career and listened—as he always did — for Jeter’s tales. They spoke for 20 minutes and could’ve gone on for 20 years.
Banks wanted a personal moment with everyone who entered Wrigley’s hallowed grounds. That’s the kind of man he was. He cherished the task of being Mr. Cub, treating Derek Jeter, Chris Emma or anyone he encountered the same way.MORE NEWS: Families Hold Vigil For Child Victims Of Gun Violence In Chicago, Call For Solutions
Ernie Banks was a Hall of Fame player and a Hall of Fame person. Wrigley Field won’t be the same without him.