This morning, as usual, I woke up early with Rocky and flipped on Sportscenter to watch while I sat next to him and woke up with a little coffee. Along the sidebar was the name “Ernie Banks”. I knew that could only mean one thing. I didn’t have my phone with me to confirm so, like it was 1994, I had to wait patiently for the TV to tell me what I already knew. Ernie Banks had died.
For those who don’t either follow baseball or live in Chicago, Ernie Banks was the greatest Cub of all time and a one of the greatest players of all time. But he was less famous for his baseball accomplishments than for his personality. Always happy, always positive, he embraced his role as “Mr. Cub.” His excitement was infectious and he was baseball’s greatest ambassador. But his career will be detailed in all the papers today and I’m no baseball historian. What I wanted to relay was the time Ernie Banks was incredibly kind to a nervous young Cub blogger.
Six or seven years ago, back when Cub blogs were a thing, I wrote for the oddly named blog Goat Riders of the Apocalypse. While supposedly nothing ever truly goes away on the internet, retrieving any of the archives of what I wrote for them is beyond my skills, but it was generally fun stuff. And one benefit of writing for a moderately popular blog was that occasionally Cubs marketing would reach out to us as “press”. One morning, I received an email from a representative for Charity Hop asking if I’d like to attend a release of Ernie Banks’s new wine and meet the man himself.
Meet Ernie Banks?
I’m sorry now, meet who again?
Suffice to say, I said yes. As long, that is, that I could bring along our staff photographer, who just so happened to be my wife. The details of the night of the interview are over at our old website along with our continued celebration that night and Leah wrote about that and my later paper route here. But the wine and the interview aren’t what I’ll remember that night. What I’ll remember is that, for that night, Leah and I became Ernie Banks’s “Physicist Friends”.
When Leah and I arrived at the event, we felt pretty out of place. Press loitered around, waiting for their chance to ask a few questions. We did a little loitering of our own, trying to not stand in the wrong place. We grazed on appetizers and drank some very tasty wine and waited. For what we were waiting, we didn’t exactly know. I had no idea how to actually conduct an interview or how to interject myself between the various reporters to ask my questions. But, it turned out, I didn’t have to know what to do.
Our awkward hovering was interrupted by The Man himself walking over to us. Ernie Banks, Mr. Cub, noticed us lost in the sea of press, and broke off from a cluster of reporters to engage us. He walked over – I don’t believe he introduced himself (that would have been a little weird) – and started talking to us, asking us what we did. We informed him we were physicists (I failed to mention that I had recently left physics for software. I threaten Leah with death if she mentioned my little career change to him) and, from then on, we were his “physicist friends.” He spoke to us for a few moments, engaging us with his great smile, and asking us a couple questions about the lab where we worked and what we did. He put us at ease. And then, as he moved on to speak to other members of the press, he would point to us and ask if they had met “his physicist friends.”
It was awesome.
And then it came time for people to sit down and conduct an interview with him. Once again, I didn’t really know how to go about this. But Ernie Banks called me over and told me to sit next to him; it was my turn. I didn’t really expect to conduct a one-on-one with Mr. Cub and I didn’t have anything but a pen and a blank pad of paper. I initially asked him about the wine – I figured I was supposed to – and his started to crank out a canned response about the notes of grapefruit and how it supports his charity. I could tell he didn’t really care. So I quickly turned my questions to the upcoming 2008 Cubs season, one that was looking to be a great one. His trademark optimism poured out and he was confident that this would be the year. “The Cubs are going to be great in 2008.” He spoke with me for over 10 minutes, longer than he gave any of the real reporters. His wife tried to interject and pull him away on multiple occasions, but he wasn’t having any of it. He was talking to his physicist friend and a fan, not a real member of the press, and I think he liked that.
I will certainly always remember my time meeting Mr. Cub and greatly appreciate the kindness and attention he showed me and my wife. He was truly the greatest Cubs of all time and one of the greatest, most positive people ever to grace this Earth, and he will be greatly missed.
Rest in peace, Mr. Banks.