|I’d tell you to rest in peace, Ronny, but wherever you are, you’re probably as active and vocal as ever.|
Ron Santo’s death hurts. Took me about two days to write just that*. I wasn’t sure why it hurt so much at the time I heard the news, but as it all sank in, one by one the reasons became clearer.
For most people, that kind of commitment to a terminally lost cause would be considered absolute nonsense. For Ronny, it made perfect sense. Cubs baseball was the joy of his life, and his life was a battle. You can forgive him getting more than a little absorbed in a kid’s game, because it kept this Old Cub, this dying Cub, young. Even when it seemed like this team was killing him.
In Ron, we had someone who identified with all our irrational joys and frustrations. His every “Yes!” and “Come on!” and, of course, “Nooooooooo!” were our primal reactions broadcast to millions, exclaimed to guttural perfection. Sometimes he would impart the insight of a Hall-of-Fame caliber ballplayer, but the art of telling us what we didn’t know was never his forte. No, Ron excelled at shouting out precisely what we felt. More often than not, disappointment. The occasional jubilation. Never a word without at least a trace of hope. Maybe the respectable person should have bottled some of that up, but Santo could pull it off. And even when we chose to be a little more reserved, a little more rational, or a little more at work, where yelling, “What is that man doing!?” just wouldn’t be acceptable, we could at least live vicariously through Ron’s unbridled, unfiltered enthusiasm.
Santo was a friend. They called it The Pat & Ron Show for a reason. Pat Hughes and Ron Santo weren’t baseball’s typical play-by-play and analyst tandem. They were two guys who happened to be watching the Cubs every day with rapt attention in the middle of a decade-long conversation about soup. Seriously, they could talk about anything. Anything. They were a never-ending episode of The Odd Couple. All in all, they were good friends who didn’t mind if we eavesdropped on every word. Although they obviously didn’t have time to read all our emails and faxes, they appreciated them just the same. By my calculations, I probably spent at least 2,000 hours listening to those two chat, and Santo was easily the less guarded of the duo. I learned more about Ron Santo (the trivial, Seinfeldian, brilliant stuff about nothing) than most friends I know in real life. No offense, real friends, but Ron was there for me three hours a day for over half the year.
When a friend dies, one you hear from on a regular basis, you know you’re going to feel that loss on a regular basis. You don’t just deal with it and move on. You’re reminded that they’re gone every time you would have spent with them. That feeling fades, but it never goes away. And I know for a fact, I’ll never watch another Cubs game without thinking of Ron Santo and what he would have said in certain situations. In that way, he lives on. But, in a much more accurate way . . . he will be sorely missed.
Santo was a hero. This part’s really hard to write, and I apologize if it’s hard to read. But I think we’ve all known someone who suffered, or is suffering, on a daily basis. Not “aw, geez, the Cubs suck” suffering. “My body is eroding before my eyes” suffering. “The chemo is eating me alive” suffering. “I know we’ll find a cure for diabetes, but not in time to save my legs” suffering. Not everybody handles it with a smile. Very few do. So if you’re lucky enough to have had someone in your life who fought through constant pain and yet managed to cheer you up every time you saw them, Ron Santo holds a special place in your heart. Has a strangle hold on it, in fact.
I’ve known people like that. I’ve lost someone like that. For whatever reason, those are the people who always seem to get taken too soon. You see them roll through setback after setback, but the positive attitude never fades. The smile rarely leaves their faces, and when it does, not for long. You see them win every battle and emerge scarred but undeterred. You always hear them talk about a cure, a victory, a better place, and you never hear them complain. You believe from watching them that nothing can defeat the human spirit.
So when that person dies, you realize that there are some battles that can’t be won. At least, not in the traditional sense of victory. I hope I can live with joy and courage and dignity until the indignity of death takes hold. There is victory in that, I suppose. But all that rationalizing and processing takes a long time to work up to. A long time. When a hero like Ron Santo dies, someone so many people have looked to as an inspiration, you don’t get over that. And by you, I mean me. I don’t get over that.
Ron Santo was a great player. He should be in the Hall of Fame, not because the Hall deserves to have him, but because future fans deserve to know how great he was. He was a great man. A great friend. A great fan, and a lot of fun to listen to. I’m going to miss him, and that won’t ever change. He brought a lot of joy to a lot of people. One of the best ways to honor him is to try to do the same. A donation to JDRF wouldn’t hurt either.
*One of the byproducts of the media age, especially the social media era we find ourselves in now, is the compulsive need to report and hear and re-report every detail within seconds of its transpiring. When the story is a game-changing trade that could bring the Cubs into contention, I love that I can learn about it before the players involved. But that wasn’t the story on Friday. When the story is the death of an old friend, even one I’ve never met or even talked to, a little silence and pause for mourning would be nice. That just isn’t the world we live in anymore. I was surprised and impressed at how many of my fellow bloggers already had published responses before I could get a pot of coffee brewing. That is not a criticism in any way. Frankly, the memorial posts I read were heartfelt, touching, and brilliantly written. More than one had me in tears. I was glad to have them available so quickly. Thanks to all who poured out their memories and reflections so swiftly and poignantly.