December 3, 2010
The Figurine That Came To Life
It's funny how young minds work.
When I was 6 years old, I bought a plastic figurine of Cubs third baseman Ron Santo at the Newberry's in East Palestine, Ohio. I have no idea why I picked Santo or why I almost chose White Sox outfielder Carlos May instead. I didn't grow up in Chicago. I didn't have any relatives in Chicago. I didn't even know anybody from Chicago.
Yet, for whatever reason, I was drawn to the scale model of Santo crouched in a fielding position. From that point forward, he became my second-most favorite player after only Willie Stargell.
Twenty years later, I got the chance to meet Santo. He was in his first season as the analyst on Cubs' radio broadcasts and I was in my third year of covering the Pirates as a newspaper beat reporter.
At first, I was hesitant to approach him because he was such a larger than life figure to me as a kid. However, I swallowed hard, walked up to him and said hello. He couldn't have been nicer and before I knew it we had chit chatted for 15 minutes.
I felt comfortable enough to tell him the story of my figurine and he cracked up. In fact, it became a running joke between us for two decades. Whenever we would cross paths, he would ask if I had gotten rich yet by selling that figurine.
I never had the heart to tell him that the figurine had got lost in the shuffle somewhere over the last 40 years but it was the first thing I thought of Friday morning when I heard the sad news that Ronnie had died. I have no idea how much that little piece of plastic would be worth but it gave me a chance to get to know one of my heroes and you can't put a price tag on that.