A few weeks ago I had the good fortune to visit with “Mr. Cub”, Ernie Banks. Elected to Baseball’s legendary Hall of Fame in 1977 after 19 seasons with the Chicago Cubs, Banks was the keynote speaker at Lipscomb University’s 6th Annual “Evening of Excellence”, a fund-raising event that highlights the brilliant career of storied basketball coach Don Meyer.
At the VIP gathering before the event, I arrived early and the line had already begun to form to greet the hospitable and energetic Banks. Encouraged to “not ask for an autograph”, others were already asking so I unpackaged the Major League baseball I had brought along and stuck it in my pocket.
When it was my turn to shake Ernie’s hand, I noticed the cap he was wearing (something with “Ernie” emblazoned on it), introduced myself and he greeted me with, “What do you do?”
Not wanting to fail in getting his autograph on the ball, I quickly asked if he would mind signing a ball for me. He quickly took my ball and pen and now the ball he signed sits proudly among my meager collection.
“I am a sales rep for New Era Cap Company. We make the caps for the pros”, I replied.
“Could you make me a couple of caps?” he asked.
“I actually brought caps for you; may I give them to you? They’re Cubs caps”, I told him.
“Well, where are they? Sure you can give them to me. Go get them.”
I always take caps along to occasions such as this even if I don’t get an item signed. It was not my intention to commercialize the opportunity, either, but I do it as a way of saying “thanks” and am happy to be able to do so. Once I gave a Minnesota Twins cap to Harmon Killebrew at an event in Birmingham at the Barons ballpark at Hoover. The next day he wore it throwing out the first pitch at the Rickwood Classic where he was the guest of honor at the annual game played at the historic park.
After thanking Ernie (now we are on a first-name basis), I retrieved the caps, walked back over to where he was sitting, and placed the four caps in front of him where he could see. He was pretty busy, as by now the line had become much longer. After greeting a few more fans, he reached over and took the caps and tried each one on.
This is the one he chose. He wore it during the remainder of the meet-and-greet, and an hour later he walked out on stage with it on, too.
If one gets the opportunity to see and hear him speak, I would encourage you to be there. Ernie Banks is approachable, engaging, and tells memorable stories. I have a wonderful memory of meeting and hearing him.
But that’s not the end of the cap story.
The next day the Chicago Cubs celebrated the 100th Anniversary of Wrigley Field, the storied venue of one of Baseball’s most storied teams. Of course, all the greats were there, including Ernie Banks, in another New Era cap I had given him the day before.
© 2014 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.