Growing up, my favorite athletes in Chicago were Steve Larmer (hockey), Walter Payton and Mike Singletary (football) and Michael Jordan (basketball). But beyond those four, the one I adored the most was Ryne Sandberg.
I collected his baseball cards; the first individual baseball card I purposefully saved my money to go buy was Ryno's rookie card. I spent $30 on it as a nine year old. It isn't worth $30 today but I still keep it in a box with the most valuable cards that remain in my possession.
I tried to emulate his batting stance. When asked what I wanted to do when I grew up, my standard response until I was 12 years old was "replace Ryno at second for the Cubs."
The first time we went to Cooperstown as a family, Ryno was still playing second base for the Cubs. I didn't get back to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum for more than 20 years, but when I returned a couple summers ago the first plaque I needed to see was Sandberg's.
My parents used to take my brother and me to the Cubs Convention every year, and the only autograph I ever wanted was Sandberg. It took a few years, but finally I got to meet him. I was a teenager at this point, in high school playing football. But I got more nervous shaking his hand the first time than I did asking my first homecoming date to the dance.
He's always been my favorite. My favorite number has always been 23 more because of Sandberg than Jordan. And my kids frequently ask me about the big color photo that's signed by "your favorite Cubs guy" on the wall in my mancave.
As was the case for many Cubs fans, seeing the beloved win the World Series last fall was a game-changer. After thinking about family and friends who passed before seeing the unthinkable, my mind wandered to players who got close in Chicago but never won it all. My mom talked about Ernie Banks and Randy Hundley. I immediately thought about Ryno. So many great seasons but never a ring.
Some might recall that Ryno made a comment last year about "if the Cubs win it all."
Lots of us made those comments. For most of our lives it was like betting on the sun coming up in the west. Want to make a bet you'll never have to pay off? Put the wager on the Cubs winning the World Series.
Well, in 2016, the Cubs did it. I had a few ridiculous wagers that had to be paid off, and it appears Sandberg had something to work out of his own. Ryno said if the Cubs ever won the World Series he'd get his hair fixed.
And he apparently has done just that.
The folks at RESTORE reached out to share with me that Ryno will be the new head... er, face, of their hair restoration program. He joins another of my all-time favorite athletes, Brian Urlacher, in the portfolio of follically challenged gentlemen to have their domes covered.
As someone with a solar panel of my own, there's a little bit of envy of the Hall of Famer for getting his situation rectified. But the fact that the World Series victory prompted Sandberg to get his hair RESTORE'd took me for a long jog down memory lane of all the afternoons watching him play a flawless second base with my mom and grandma.