Never in my life have I cried over the death of a celebrity. Ever. Yet
every single time I read anything about Ron Santo I burst into tears.
Not huge hiccupping sobs, but tears. I feel like I’ve lost a friend.
I’m a Cubs fan, of course. (Our dog is named Wrigley, for crying out loud.) I’ve lived
within a mile of the stadium for the last 21 years. And yet I feel that
even though I grew up liking the Cubs, a fan, I never really loved the
Cubs until we moved into the city, at Cornelia and Reta, in 1989. We
lived so close, when we sat outside and watched the game on our fire
escape of a back porch, we could hear the cheers in the air around us
before we heard them on the TV.
My husband is the truer baseball fan, even though he came into it later in life. Growing up downstate, he was dangerously close to becoming a St. Louis fan. (I know!) And he somehow ended up married to the girl who won’t even drink St. Louis beer at the ballpark. Yeah, that’s right. The beer snob is married to the Old Style girl. But he’s the one that got me started listening to the Cubs on the radio and now I can’t believe Ronnie’s gone.
I was in North Carolina the day Elvis died. My sister and I pulled through the drive-through at the bank and I didn’t understand why the teller was crying. I thought she was ridiculous. I thought it was equally ridiculous the day my Polish Catholic babysitter showed up at my house in tears on the day the pope died. I mean, she didn’t even know the guy. But today, I get it. Ron Santo was known to me as only a voice on the radio, but oh, he was so much more than that. He expressed our pain, our love, our frustration. I’m not the biggest Cubs fan that ever existed in our world. (That title probably goes to my friend Rick Kaempfer, or maybe my friend Dane Placko.) But I’d be surprised if they’re shedding any tears tonight, and I’m trying to understand why I am.
In case you may have been wondering what caused our team to have such a rough season last year, it wasn’t pitching or injuries. It was that we finally got season tickets. Sitting at all those games though, it felt like something was missing without Pat and Ron in my ear. Knowing that Steve Bartman had WGN on his earbuds when he caught that ball can almost make you forgive him.
My favorite Ronnie one liner, was set-up when Pat said, “It’s so cold I can’t feel my toes.” And Ronnie replied, “Neither can I.” Which is hilarious and bittersweet and speaks so highly of a man who lived through so much, but never, ever, dwelled on the negative.
I think of so many summer evenings with Pat and Ron on the radio. The weather is warm and the kids are goofing around in the backyard. My husband is cooking on the grill and we’re drinking a beer and if the wind is right, we hear the cheers from the stadium before Pat tells us about the double play and Ronnie yells, “Oh yeah.”
Maybe it’s this. These moments that he’s a part of that I don’t want to let go, that I’m afraid are slipping through my fingers as I watch my children grow older and prepare to leave the nest someday sooner than I’ll be ready for them to go. Maybe Ronnie’s death is a reminder nothing is forever and to enjoy every moment and always look on the bright side of things.
I don’t know who will be the color guy next year. It doesn’t matter. Ronnie’s in my Hall of Fame. And I know, next year, and for many years after, my Cubs world will forever be a little grayer.
Now pass me a tissue.