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  • Bill Chastain

Ernie Banks a special man

The tributes to Ernie Banks have been ringing since his death over the weekend, and for good reason. He understood that hitting a baseball well made you a special baseball player and how you treated others made you a special person.

When you get older you have a lot of stories. I have two about Banks.

Ernie_BanksI met him while writing my first story for the St. Petersburg Evening Independent, the afternoon brother of the St. Petersburg Times. My assignment was to cover an old timers/fantasy baseball game at Tampa’s Al Lopez Field. Banks, dressed in a Cubs uniform, was the first player I met. And what a break that was.

We proceeded to talk and continued to doing so until I felt like he knew more about me than I knew about him. Before I knew it, he began introducing me to the likes of Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays saying to these greats, “This is my friend, Bill Chastain.” They were not as enthusiastic about meeting me as Banks.

I sensed his treatment toward me stemmed from his understanding that I was new to my job–and had no idea what I was doing–coupled with the fact he treated everybody well. Even after 512 career homers.

I last saw Banks in the champagne-soaked Blue Jays’ clubhouse after they had defeated the Braves in the 1993 World Series. I found some irony in that snapshot since he never played a postseason game in his storied career.

No doubt Mr.Cub is playing two right about now.