I’m an early riser, and todays NYTimes headline on the computer screen said, simply, “Ernie Banks, the eternally hopeful Mr. Cub, dies at 83”. That would be the Chicago Cubs, the first and and for many years the only host Major League baseball team I ever watched in person, at Wrigley Field, Chicago, in the mid-1950s. Here’s the news conveyed by the Chicago Cubs organization; here’s this mornings Chicago Tribune top story.
Mr. Banks played with the Chicago Cubs beginning in the 1954 season. He was 23, the shortstop.
I likely saw Ernie Banks twice, in the summer of 1955; then again in 1956. Those were in my teenage years, and we were living in the country, Antelope Township, about 20 miles west of Wahpeton ND. Both times we went to visit my Uncle and Aunt, Art and Eileen Busch, in Broadview IL; and both years we went to see the Cubs, because they happened to be in town.
It is possible to more or less fix the dates in history because we didn’t make 600 mile trips as a matter of routine in those days. This was before freeways, and there were five of we kids to pile into our 1951 dowdy gray Plymouth Suburban. No air conditioning, or seat belts or such. There is a photo, apparently taken on the trip by myself (I wasn’t in the picture) at the Rum River Park in Anoka; another on the Busch’s suburban lawn.
Here’s a photo of myself with my brother, Frank, taken in the general time period.
The only physical memory I have, other than the games at Wrigley, was the interminable drive through Wisconsin to Illinois, heavy traffic, long very slow lines of traffic behind semi-trucks creeping up the seeming “everlasting hills” on two lane U.S. 12. We stopped for cheese somewhere, and my love affair with Colby Cheese began that day, somewhere in Wisconsin.
Both trips were a very big deal for my parents, especially my Mom. Her brother, my Uncle Art, was a young electrical engineer for General Electric (GE), and after he married Aunt Eileen in January, 1955, they moved to Broadview in the Chicago area. He lived and worked in the Chicago area for the rest of his career. A year and a half later their first child, John, was born, and we made the second trip back to Broadview.
By then, I was involved in sports, such as one could be in tiny rural environments, and I fantasized about Mickey Mantle, who was making news with the New York Yankees.
We didn’t have TV, then, so my fantasies came from radio broadcasts, and I could play them out by trying to hit baseballs over the trees at the edge of our yard (don’t recall ever succeeding at that, but I well occupied much time trying!)
Then we were in Chicago, the BIG city. And when company comes to town, part of the obligation is to entertain them.
It happened, both years, that the Cubs were in town and scheduled; the White Sox were on the road. So the decision made by my Uncle was very simple: it was to be Wrigley Field and the Cubs that we’d see.
My memory is that we sat in the first base line stands both years – perhaps a GE block – and the weather was nice. I know that the Cubs opponent one of the years was the New York Giants, the other year the Pittsburgh Pirates, and at the time, the teams were 7th and 8th (8th was last) in the standings.
No matter, this was the Big Leagues.
Of course, these were day games. Wrigley Field didn’t have lights, then (and still?) unique in that respect.
I have no specific memories of who won or lost those games, or of any particular player, or spectacular play.
With no question, Ernie Banks was shortstop at both games, but he was, like me, a new kid on the block.
But I can say they were memorable days for this North Dakota kid.
Those were simple days, at least they seemed so.
Mom and Dad have long ago passed on, as have Art and Eileen. Mom’s last surviving sibling, my Uncle Vince, who grew up sharing his bed with his kid brother Art, is well along in his last mile of life out on the North Dakota prairie; I last saw Vince on Thursday.
For everyone there is a season….
Thanks for the memories.