Today I experienced the melancholy associated with one's boyhood hero being enshrined for all eternity. Ryne Sandberg is rightfully in the Hall of Fame. It's wonderful to know that the demigod of my baseball-worshipping youth was, indeed, heads-and-shoulders above his peers, and history will remember him so. His election also reminds me of a time when I dreamt of being a heroic baseball player like Ryno, a youthful imaginitive time when anything was possible. Yet the fact #23 is on his way to being bronzed and hung on a wall, to get dusty with the faces of other dead guys, is a potent reminder of my own mortality, of time passing by.
There will be plenty of comprehensive tributes to Ryno over the next year, like this one. I won't make a list of his greatest moments on the field or anything like that. Honestly, he broke my heart about as often as he lifted it. After all, he was a Cub, and that's what Cubs do.
I do recall one instance, when I was about 13 years old, when I literally tried to chase down the man's autograph. Outside Wrigley Field, fans congregate around the metal fences surrounding the team parking lot, hoping their heroes will sign their balls, programs, etc. Ryne rarely signed here, but as was my custom when going to Wrigley, I waited outside the fence just in case. As always, Ryne never showed. I wasn't too disappointed, and I began walking to my car with my dad. In the distance, I saw a bunch of kids gathering around an SUV. Weird, I thought. The SUV stopped at a red light, and I could make out a face in the rearview mirror: Ryne Sandberg. The kids were holding out balls and cards and paper, and Ryno was actually taking things in the window, signing them, and funelling them back to the kids while he was parked at the traffic light. When will I get another shot at this? I took off sprinting towards the intersection, cars and street vendors be damned. I reached in my pocket, grabbed at the scrap of ticket step, felt for a pen--there had to be a pen, just had, yeah, there's a pen! I'm going to get it--and ran for the driver's side of the SUV, that winged chariot carrying my idol. Just as I broached the side of the SUV and began extending my bony arm, the light turned green. Cars started honking. Even Ryne Sandberg has to get his ass moving in traffic. He smiled, waved, and put the car into drive. The wheel of the SUV bounced over the tip of my foot. Wow, I thought, maybe it's broken. Ryne Sandberg broke my foot! I darted through the traffic back to the sidewalk, realizing my foot was actually fine. I just didn't have Sandberg's autograph. Again.
I finally got Sandberg's autograph a few years later. My dad came home with a signed ball one night. He scored it through some business connection. It was nice of my dad and the ball is still one of my prized possessions, but I was in high school then and already knew full well Ryne Sandberg was mortal. He was just a baseball player, I thought as I held the long-coveted autogrpah, just a regular guy. What was so big about this? I recalled my childhood infatuation with him and winced.
Today, when I read the Hall of Fame headline, Ryne Sandberg once again emerged as an immortal, all-powerful mythical figure in my hazy head, just for a moment or two. It was a nice state of mind to have a visit with.