I’ll never forget it. Every time I smell “new” leather, it’s what I think of. I remember the feeling of slipping it on my hand. I remember my dad showing me how to break it in so that it formed a nice big pocket with which I could easily close my hand around the ball. It was my first baseball glove. A “Ron Santo” signature model. I have had numerous gloves since then but, that’s the only one I remember. It is the one that defined to me what a baseball glove should feel like and, I held all of its successors to the standard that it set.
I was all of about 8 years old when I received the glove. At the time, I didn’t know who Ron Santo was. I grew up a Yankees fan and at that age the only players I knew of or, cared about, wore pinstripes in the Bronx. To me, the thrill was in having my first “real” baseball glove – not in whose signature was stamped into the pocket. Looking back, if I had understood whose name was on the mitt, I may have held it in even higher reverence.
As a lifelong baseball fan, I would learn as I grew older that Ron Santo was the third baseman for the Chicago Cubs for 14 years. During that time, he hit 342 home runs, drove in 1331 runs, won 5 gold gloves and was named an all-star 9 times. In spite of these numbers, he never made it into the Hall of Fame.
With the advent of satellite radio, I had the opportunity on occasion, to listen to Cubs’ games. To my surprise the man who I only knew through a baseball glove and some statistics had become a colorful announcer for the team. Again, to reiterate, I’m a die-hard Yankee fan but, whenever I’d be scanning the XM/Sirius airwaves for a ballgame, I’d always stop at the Cubs broadcast so I could hear Mr. Santo. He had so much passion for his beloved Cubbies and I could actually feel his joy or sorrow with every pitch. There were times I had my son Matt in the car with me while Ron Santo would scream with ecstasy over a Cub home run or, sigh with despair when the home team struck out. My son instantly became a fan and, Ron’s emotional outbursts over the air gave us both something to smile and laugh about. As with my baseball glove, I have unknowingly held other baseball announcers to the standard Mr. Santo set each time I listened to him.
This morning while driving Matt to school, we learned that Ron Santo had passed away. The excitement in the air over the season’s first big snow was replaced with a solemn silence. Without a word being said between us, i knew he was feeling the same small sense of loss that I was. I know that both he and I will find ourselves thinking about Mr. Santo throughout the day. I may be a Yankee fan but, for me, the world became a little less colorful today. Thank you Ron.