Part of America's mission is to find Christ in culture, so it seems natural to look for Him in in that part of culture not involving art, music, theater, or other written and visual arts: sports, and in particular--baseball. Today brings sad notice that Ron Santo, beloved third baseman of the Chicago Cubs from the 1960s, has died.
Ron Santo has been my hero since I was 9. When a batter lined a ball to third base at 120 miles an hour, Santo stopped it dead. When the Cubs, those greatest of losers, were down by five runs in dreary weather at the end of the eighth, Santo always seemed to manage a hit, and always ran from the dugout to third base like the World Series depended on it. If you have memories of Ron, you can leave them here.
In the late 1960s the Cubs started to win, and I worked at a task a boy could only dream of. Taking two buses and an elevated train, some friends and I would work for an hour or two as junior groundskeepers, walking the stands and infield with burlap sacks, to make sure the place was pristine for the 1:15 game. (For this, we got a free grandstand ticket.) I have stood near St. Peter's bones in the Scavi beneath the Vatican; standing on the Wrigley field infield and making it ready for Ron brought a similar thrill.
Oh, those clickin' heels! When the Cubs went into first place in 1969, Santo was pure happiness, jumping up at the end of the game, right into that blue summer sky, those strong legs and knees pushing him off the ground like the Saturn rocket that took Neil Armstrong to the moon. Up went Ron, into aerial gymnastics, using his body and spirit to bring joy to others. None of us knew at the time that Ron Santo kept a secret to himself, one that those close to him protected.
Ron Santo sufferd from Type I Juvenile Diabetes, and both his legs had to be amputated after his playing career. He kept his struggles to himself. Because there was a lack of effective treatments for this disease, Santo had to devise a system of sneaking back into the clubhouse to eat various combination of candy bars to bring his blood sugar back to a level where he could steady himself, focus, and play the game. Santo went on to become a beloved Chicago radio announcer, helped raise nearly 50 million dollars for Type I Juvenile Diabetes, and has always expressed his gratitude for his own gifts despite his own pain.
Ron Santo has never been elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame. In my mind he shares a special place with Joe DiMaggio (both Catholic athletes, I believe): of all the ballplayers I called out to for autographs, or wrote letters to, Santo and DiMaggio are the only two who responded, Santo signing my Bobby Shantz mitt personally and DiMaggio sending a postcard from San Francisco in his elegant handwriting. Let's pray for Ron and be thankful for the joy he brought to so many lives; he is one of those of whom it is said, "He was the pride of his generation; he was the glory of his times."
William Van Ornum