The news of Ernie Banks' death on Friday evening has been a punch in the gut to baseball fans form all over the world, but perhaps no baseball fan felt the blow stronger than the leader of the United States, President Barack Obama.
Having spent a significant portion of his adult life in Chicago, President Obama became a fan of Ernie Banks, just like everyone else who had the pleasure of knowing him or meeting him. And though the president is never shy about sharing his allegiance to the Chicago White Sox, his respect and admiration for Mr. Cub was always clear. Perhaps never more so than Nov. 20, 2013, when he awarded Ernie Banks the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
On Saturday, the president and his wife, Michelle, joined the rest world in paying tribute and saying goodbye to the American sports icon by releasing the following statement:
Michelle and I send our condolences to the family of Ernie Banks, and to every Chicagoan and baseball fan who loved him.
Ernie came up through the Negro Leagues, making $7 a day. He became the first African-American to play for the Chicago Cubs, and the first number the team retired. Along the way, he became known as much for his 512 home runs and back-to-back National League MVPs as for his cheer, his optimism, and his love of the game. As a Hall-of-Famer, Ernie was an incredible ambassador for baseball, and for the city of Chicago. He was beloved by baseball fans everywhere, including Michelle, who, when she was a girl, used to sit with her dad and watch him play on TV. And in 2013, it was my honor to present Ernie with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Somewhere, the sun is shining, the air is fresh, his team's behind him, and Mr. Class -- "Mr. Cub" -- is ready to play two.
Also on Saturday morning, Cubs have started a makeshift memorial to Ernie Banks outside Wrigley Field.
The beer cans are said to be a toast to Mr. Cub's legacy.
Continuing construction at Wrigley Field has made it difficult for fans to get close to the ballpark, but that hasn't deterred them so far. Unfortunately, though, those hoping to leave a tribute at the Ernie Banks statue will have to wait until opening day. According to the Chicago Tribune, it's currently being restored.
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