Cubs fans remember 'Mr. Cub,' those who didn't get to witness win

CHICAGO — The final resting place of Mr. Cub is a burial plot that lies beneath a shedding honey locust tree in the Lake Willowmere section of Graceland Cemetery and Crematorium, a half mile north from the Gate J entrance to Wrigley Field. It is marked by a dark granite gravestone carved into the shape of a diamond, replete with four bases, his name, Ernie Banks, and No. 14.

Visitors to the site arrive by way of the No. 80 bus, the elevated train’s red line and personal cars. They steer or stride past obelisks and mausoleums of the moneyed and powerful.

R. Lincoln Harris at the grave of Ernie Banks.

R. Lincoln Harris at the grave of Ernie Banks.

(Kevin Armstrong/New York Daily News)

Along the way, yellow leaves, pulled to the ground by gravity, line the arterial routes to his quiet site that was dug by a White Sox fan. A “Raise the Flag” pennant, a white towel emblazoned with a “W” and a bouquet of red, white and blue flowers are wrapped in plastic.

The gravedigger, Ron, opens the Master lock to the wrought-iron gates at 8 a.m. each day, and the morning after the Cubs won the organization’s first World Series title in 108 years is no different.

Follow the Daily News Sports on Facebook. “Like” us here.

R. Lincoln Harris, a reading tutor at nearby Truman College, is one of the first to enter, and he pulls his red Prius around the lake, a navy Cubs flag flying in the wind as he goes. Dressed in black slacks and a black jacket over a white Cubs jersey lined with blue pinstripes, he pulls up slowly next to the gravesite, wipes fallen leaves from the stone’s face and lays a baseball among the mementoes.

He recalls leaving a ball at the sidewalk memorial that sprung up on Addison Street when Banks, felled by a heart attack at 83, died in the winter of 2015. Harris, 48, wrote, “Someday we’ll go all the way,” on that ball. He shakes his head. The ball now at the grave reads, “2016. It finally happened! Cubs win.”

NYC PAPERS OUT. Social media use restricted to low res file max 184 x 128 pixels and 72 dpi

The Graceland Cemetery

(NEW YORK DAILY NEWS/NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)

“I know I have a lot of friends who would want to be here,” Harris says. “I’m here to do it for them, too. I wish he was still here. It feels great. It feels glorious.”

The Cubs didn’t just play two games in Cleveland this week. They did Banks one better and won both. Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Ben Zobrist brought home the championship trophy to Waveland Avenue on All Souls Day, but members of a tortured fan base kept the departed in mind, writing “Let’s play two!” in chalk on the red bricks outside Wrigley’s outfield walls.

Cubs’ win means just as much for baseball as it does for Chicago

NYC PAPERS OUT. Social media use restricted to low res file max 184 x 128 pixels and 72 dpi

A Cubs fan climbs a street light after Chicago wins the World Series.

(NEW YORK DAILY NEWS/NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)

Banks, the first African-American to play for the Cubs and a two-time M.V.P., coined the term, and is the headliner on the long list of former players, managers, owners, trainers, concessionaires and fans who died before seeing the team win a world title. Banks, Ron Santo and Harry Caray never saw city cops and state police smoke cigars while craning their necks to look in the window of third-story apartments furnished with televisions facing the streets during a Game 7 played 350 miles east. They never happened upon the group of eight that gathered beyond the ivy walls to listen, from first pitch to final out, to the game as called on radio. In the third inning, a cop threw open the glass doors to the stadium’s VIP entrance so that supporters standing under the marquee could watch. Fans chanted “Thank you Theo” and shouted Harry Caray hallelujahs. By game’s end, after the Cleveland rally and late-inning rain delay, lyrics to “Go Cubs Go” were sung a cappella. Hoarse throats added, “No more goats! No more goats!”

Statue of Ernie Banks

Statue of Ernie Banks

(Kevin Armstrong/New York Daily News)

“I feel almost worst for (Hall-of-Fame Cub) Billy Williams because he can’t quite cross that finish line with his buddies,” says Jason Gilley, a Cubs fanatic. “Took so many years of their lives. We still feel their energy. Their presence remains in that stadium.”

Gilley’s chest was shaven as he stood beneath an awning while rain fell over Wrigleyville. “Believe” was painted across his belly as he stood across Sheffield Avenue, and traced his path to this point.

He noted that his mother refused to push during labor so that she could finish watching a Cubs game before giving birth to him 44 years ago. Born in Waukegan, he found himself at a meeting in Orlando when the Cubs claimed the National League pennant. Airfare from Florida proved to be too steep for his family’s lifestyle, so he improvised, hitching rides on big rigs to get from truck stop to truck stop, staying in seven overall, from Georgia to Tennessee to Indiana. His final leg of the trip north was in a friend’s Honda Accent.

Obama invites Cubs to visit White House before he leaves office

NYC PAPERS OUT. Social media use restricted to low res file max 184 x 128 pixels and 72 dpi

Dan Fox stands outside the Graceland Cemetery on Wednesday in Chicago.

(NEW YORK DAILY NEWS/NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)

Needing a Western Union for cash, Chicago police, seeing his painted face, shuttled him to the nearest one, in a Walgreens in the back of a cruiser. He spent Game 7 walking around Wrigleyville, just as he had during the three home games that he could not get a ticket to last weekend. On Wednesday night, his red suitcase was stuffed in a locker at Union Station, protected by a six-number digital code. His Greyhound bus home departed at 1:30 a.m. as denizens and visiting devotees honked car horns.

“I’m a little spontaneous,” he says, his eyes watering. “My wife gets me.”

NYC PAPERS OUT. Social media use restricted to low res file max 184 x 128 pixels and 72 dpi

Cubs fans listen on the radio to the Game 7 of the World Series.

(NEW YORK DAILY NEWS/NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)

For Game 7, fans flew in from all over and flocked to Wrigleyville, making good on vows to be with each other if the Cubs ever reached the brink of a title. They included Scott King, a 24-year-old from Yorkville, Illinois, some 60 miles southwest of Chicago. He lives in Atlanta now, but flew in and met his cousin, Shawn O’Malley and friend Zack Arcara, at O’Hare International Airport Wednesday.

They rode a blue line train into the city, walked a lap around Wrigley and observed the chalk memorials being written, brick by brick. Looking for room to add a family surname, O’Malley and King took one foot each of Arcara’s and lifted him up, cupping his sneakers in their hands. In blue chalk, Arcara wrote their grandfather’s name – “GPA Austin” – in thick lettering. Austin, a corn and soybean farmer, is a lifelong Cubs follower. Now 78, he was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer two months ago. He is adjusting to his health demands after clearing the field for the fall’s harvest. On the day of Game 6, he underwent his second chemotherapy session.

Joe Maddon ‘choked’ and nearly cost his Cubs the World Series

“Holding out hope,” O’Malley says.

NYC PAPERS OUT. Social media use restricted to low res file max 184 x 128 pixels and 72 dpi

Chicago firefighters watch at their station the Game 7 of the World Series.

(NEW YORK DAILY NEWS/NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)

Wrigley will be wrapped in chalked obituaries and epithets for the foreseeable future, but the living strengthened their bonds, both with friends and family, as well. Anticipating an extended October run, George Jasinski, 33 and a season’s ticket holder, sent his grandfather, also George and 50 years his elder, a text message on September 28. He issued a save-the-date for the World Series.

“Pops, what are you doing on October 28th?” the grandson said.

“I don’t know what I’m doing this Friday but if you’re involved its gonna be good,” said the grandfather, a retired electrician who served in the U.S. Navy during the Korean War and then 30 years with the city of Chicago.

Theo Epstein ends two MLB curses, but it’s just ‘the beginning’

“I think we should go to the Cubs game,” the grandson said.

“You can count me in,” said the grandfather, who added seven smiley face emojis.

Cubs fans write messages in chalk.

Cubs fans write messages in chalk.

(Kevin Armstrong/New York Daily News) Chalk messages left by Cubs fans.

Chalk messages left by Cubs fans.

(Kevin Armstrong/New York Daily News)

The two attended Game 3 together in the bleachers. The grandson notes that his grandfather became a “mini celebrity” as fans asked if this was what he has been waiting for. The octogenarian had not forgotten the bad trades and epic collapses.

“Rock bottom?” he says. “How about the waiting next year every year?”

World Series Game 7 scores 25-year high in ratings

Banks is always credited for his optimism in the midst of losses endured. He expressed enthusiasm during each Spring Training, and Cubs fans decided to pay respects for bearing it all at his grave on Thursday. As squirrels collected acorns in his corner of the cemetery, Jensen Allen, the associate director at Graceland, added that an upgrade will come soon. The diamond is only temporary as a permanent monument is in the works. There is no date set for the new design to be finished. It will likely be next spring, just as the Cubs ready to defend their World Series title.

A concrete foundation will need to be poured before the monument is rested on it.

“Hard to say when it will be all set,” she says. “It’s a long process.”

Tags:
mlb
ernie banks
world series
chicago cubs
cleveland indians
kris bryant
anthony rizzo

Send a Letter to the Editor

Join the Conversation:
facebook
Tweet

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

Source: NY Daily News Headlines Sports News

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *