Sunday, January 25, 2015

Rest in peace, Ernie Banks

The City of Chicago and the country is mourning the loss of the back-to-back National League MVP  (1958-59) and the first African-American player on the Cubs also known as "Mr. Cub," Ernie Banks. 

The shortstop known for his positive personality and dedicated loyalty to the Cubs passed away on Friday, January 23 at the age of 83. 

Ernie Banks in 2014 (Chicago Tribune photo)
I feel very lucky to have met Mr. Banks on a couple of occasions and he always made me feel like I was the most important person he was talking to and that he genuinely cared about our conversation. 

Ernie Banks at Wrigley Field in the 1970s (Chicago Tribune photo)
Reading quotes, tweets and comments from others about Mr. Banks only solidifies my feelings for him even more.  Here's what some had to say:

"Approachable, ever optimistic and kindhearted, Ernie Banks is and always will be Mr. Cub.  My family and I grieve the loss of such a great and good-hearted man, but we look forward to celebrating Ernie's life in the days ahead."  --Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts

"He was always an individual who was the happy type.  He was always an optimist.  You only saw the cheerful side of Ernie."  --Teammate and Hall of Fame Member Fergie Jenkins

"Mr Cub.  What you have done for the game of baseball and the city of Chicago and everyone you have ever touched will never be forgotten.  RIP"  --Tweet from Anthony Rizzo

"New to the family but always admired Ernie Banks. Mr. Cub's play on the field was only matched by his demeanor off of it. "  --Tweet from new Cubs Pitcher Jon Lester

"Ernie actually didnt get ENOUGH credit as player bc never talked about himself. He was way more interested in the person he was talking to"  --Tweet from Len Kasper

"RIP Ernie banks/ sad day for Chicago and cubs nation - great human being"  --Tweet from actor and Chicago native John Cusack

"We lost a legend tonight. Sad night."  --New Cubs Outfielder Dexter Fowler

And there are many, many more if you scan Twitter, the internet or the media.  Here's a link from the Chicago Tribune to an in-depth article that's worth reading about Mr. Cub.  

Ernie Banks hit his 500th career home run on May 12, 1970 (Chicago Tribune photo)
Even though Mr. Banks was an amazing player, he never talked about himself or touted his accomplishments.  Banks is the Cubs' all-time leader in games played (2,528), at-bats (9,421), home runs (512), total bases (4,706) and extra-base hits (1,009).

Mr. Cub was second in all-time hits (2,583), home runs (512) and RBIs (1,636) for the Cubs franchise during his 19 seasons played from 1953-1971.  

Banks was a National League All-Star for 11 seasons and played in 14 All-Star games.  Mr. Cub hit his 500th career home run in 1970 and was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1977.  More recently, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama in 2013.

Ernie Banks is awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama on November 20, 2013 (Chicago Tribune photo)
Banks coached for the Cubs until 1973, served as a minor-league instructor from 1974-76 and also worked in the Cubs front office.  His uniform No. 14 was the first one to be retired by the Cubs organization and can be seen on game days on the left field foul pole.

Mr. Cub will always be remembered in the minds of so many and his contribution to baseball and everyone he met will definitely live on.  Let's play two!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Welcome to 2015!

Welcome to 2015, which is sure to be a milestone year for the Cubs.  There was much excitement at the 30th Annual Cubs Convention, which was held last weekend (January 16-18) at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel and Towers.  

Current and past Cubs players on stage during the Opening Ceremonies of the Cubs Convention (photo by Karen Burchell)
This was my 7th Convention and the mood during the weekend was noticeably different than in previous years.  Cubs fans were pumped, energized and seemed to have a renewed outlook on a team that's ready to compete, rather than "re-build." 
For the first time in years, Convention passes and hotel rooms sold out before the Convention started, which I think is a sign of things to come!  All of the panels were packed and had people standing in the back of the ballrooms and flowing into the hallway.

Fans were the most excited to see Joe Maddon, the new Cubs manager, Jon Lester, the new Cubs starting pitcher, Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro and top prospect Kris Bryant.  

New Cubs Manager Joe Maddon shakes hands with Cubs Alumni during the Opening Ceremonies of the Cubs Convention (photo by Karen Burchell)

Cubs Shortstop and All-Star Starlin Castro walks out during the Opening Ceremonies of the Cubs Convention (photo by Karen Burchell)

Top prospect Kris Bryant on stage during the Opening Ceremonies of the Cubs Convention (photo by Karen Burchell)

Another highlight of the weekend:
I, along with approximately 550 other guests, had the great opportunity to attend Kerry Wood and the Wood Family Foundation's (WFF) 4th Annual Woody's Winter Warm-Up on Friday, January 16th.

The event had a new venue this year, which was Harry Caray's 7th Inning Stretch Restaurant and Chicago Sports Museum located in Water Tower Place on the 7th Floor.  The Plain White T's performed while guests mingled with Cubs players and local celebrities, who also took turns guest bartending to earn tips to benefit the WFF.

I got a chance to get a photo with former Cubs Pitcher (and the event host) Kerry Wood

The night raised over $100,000 for the Wood Family Foundation's "Pitch In" program.  This is always an event I look forward to each year, because not only is it a lot of fun, it's a wonderful feeling to also know that my support ends up helping children through the Wood Family Foundation's programs.

Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo gets ready to guest bartend during Woody's Winter Warm-Up (photo by Karen Burchell)

Now that the Cubs Convention is over and there are just 28 days until pitchers and catchers report to spring training, I am thoroughly looking forward to this season.  As Chairman Tom Ricketts mentioned at the Opening Ceremonies, "Let's Go!"