By: Stephanie Paluch
It’s been hours now since the news of our beloved Chicago icon has hit the airwaves, and we’ve all dealt with the passing in various ways. When I first got the news, my initial thought was “I have to be at Wrigley. I have to be home.” I've spent the majority of today in thought - remembering Ron in his best, recounting all the times I've met him, and rationalizing how Wrigley will ever be the same.
When I originally wrote this article, I was on a flight to Arizona. Now that I am here, I keep re-reading what I've written, trying to find the right words, but none of it does him justice. Our language has not given us enough words to thoroughly explain how much this individual who lived among us means to us and will always mean to us. No phrase or paragraph written here seems to fulfill the honor of the life of Ron Santo.
For that matter, no amount of grieving has been suffice. With some instances, you assure yourself that in a few hours life will come back to your body- maybe you’ll wake up tomorrow and feel a little better. You rationalize that maybe instead of missing the passed, you will be able to celebrate their former life. I’m not sure how long it will take, but the tears don’t stop. With every memory, I dive deeper into sorrow.
Ronnie mean't a lot to us in Chicago; he mean't a lot to us in the baseball world. Ronnie was as true a Cub and you can find. He was the ultimate fan, and those of us who watched the games with the volume muted and Pat & Ron live on the radio, we know how much he loved these Cubbies. He respected us as fans. He accepted us into his family, and he graciously acknowledged everyone who came to meet him.
When I woke up this morning at 6am and heard the news, the only thing I was certain of was that I needed to be at Wrigley with my family... with my cubs family. I couldn’t risk missing my flight, so I promised myself I'd go straight to Wrigley as soon as I got home on Tuesday. When I checked in at the airport it was 9:30am- 2 hours away from my scheduled departure. As soon as the lady behind the counter told me the flight was already delayed an additional hour, I wasted no time. I literally ran, like my life depended on it, down the corridor opposite the security check point. I bought myself a $5 fare for the L-train, hoped on and headed straight for Wrigley Field. I had tears in my eyes the whole way through as I struggled to find the right words. I had 20 minutes on the train before I'd be at Wrigley and I couldn't for the life of me decide what to say or do.
When I got to Wrigley Field, the sorrow intensified. It was very quiet, yet not isolate. People roamed the streets - Sheffield, Waveland, Addison and Clark. Cubs fans wandering, one to the other, hugging and crying... remembering their favorite stories to reporters.
I had found some words and wrote them the other half of my boarding pass while on the train. Holding the paper in my fingers, I walked up to the stadium and knew this was going to be hard, not only today but for every future game. I walked up to the stadium wall and leaned in close putting my bare hand against the concrete wall. I closed my eyes and remembered Ron. I smelled the air in Wrigley and I heard the cheers with Ronnie leading the way. For a few moments I just stood there replaying my favorite memory, over and over again.
I walked by the Billy Williams statue, where the Harry Carey statue once stood, and remembered my first time meeting Ron at that very spot. It was early in the morning and he was so full of joy, so optimistic. I saw him in passing and said with a smile, “Hi, Mr. Santo!” and he stopped in his path, greeted me just as excitedly and lead the conversation beginning with our beloved Cubbies. Ron was always like that, with every fan. He took his time to greet anyone who wanted to speak to him, signed for children if they asked, and always, always told those who would listen stories from his past.
I saw Ronnie a lot after that, and every time he always seemed to remembered me, or at least I think he did. But that was the thing that made him special - even if Ron had never met you, he acted like you were family.
Last year, in 2010, I didn’t see Ron as much around the ballpark. He was hospitalized a lot more, as expected with his diabetes, but still every time the fans would greet him, a huge smile would stretch across his face and you’d feel his glow of optimism. The last time I spoke to Ron one-on-one, I was working at Wrigley for MLB Network Thursday Night Baseball. It was early August 2009, and the Cubs were set to play the Brewers that day. To get ready for a 7pm game, we started setting up in the production truck around 10am. One of my jobs was running things from the trucks outside to the press box and then to the field if needed. There was one break in the chaos, where all I had to do was wait - and no better a place was this asked of me than when I was in the Cubs dugout. So I sat down on the bench in the Cubs dugout, admiring the field, and waited.
Within half a minute, Billy Williams came and took a seat right next me, sighs, and says, “What a beautiful day for a ball game.” “Absolutely, Mr. Williams,” I replied, “It’s breathtaking from this view.” I sat there and smiled and tried to take in what had just happened, and Billy kept talking. At the end of our short conversation about the weather and cubs, I shook his hand, told him it was a pleasure to meet him and told him I’d see him later in the booth.
Walking down the tunnel, back to the concourse I turned the corner and there was Ron Santo, who exclaims, “Look who’s behind the scenes!” and comes over to hug me. Never before had I hugged Ronnie, but he saw me back there probably looking frantic and in a rush and decided to stop me and say hi. I quickly kidded back by saying, “Ssshhhh! I snuck in!” and held my finger to my lips. We laughed for a second, told him I was on the go and said that I’d say bye before I left the stadium that night. I was never able to see Ronnie again and talk to him after that, and I never said goodbye. Had I moved from that dugout just a moment before or after I had, I would have missed him completely and never would have had that experience.
I will miss Ron, the joy he brought to the ballpark, his voice on the radio, and the optimism he entered each season with. I’ll laugh every time I re-listen to one of his broadcasters, where the cubs just can’t do anything right! And every time I enter Wrigley I'll remember him, and I'll honor him by loving the Cubbies and respecting the game.
I'll see my fellow cubs family at his visitation in Chicagon on thursday where we can all say our goodbyes.
Love you all and thank you to everyone who had reached out to me today. I appreciate all the support we have as a united family. Go Cubs Go!
The Baseball Life,
Wrigley was not the same this year. I found myself only attending the games I worked for FOX, instead. We still miss Ronnie, everyday and wish he could have been alive to hear the Hall of Fame announce his acceptance, one that was greatly overdue. But we can all rest assured, he is celebrating above us and within our hearts. Thank you to the veteran committee for finally making this right.
#10 you are always with us...