To some people, being a dedicated fan of the Chicago Cubs can seem like a struggle at times. Years—even generations—have come and gone without experiencing the long-coveted celebration of a Cubs World Series championship.

For Ernie Banks, there was never a bad moment in being a Cubs fan. It was always wonderful. He realized to the fullest that being a Cubs fan was a privilege and a joy every single day. Sure, there were difficult times, but all of those struggles would make that inevitable World Series championship that much sweeter.

Most Cubs fans have been waiting ’til next year. Ernie always believed this was the year.

Born to Eddie and Essie Banks on January 31, 1931, Banks grew up in Dallas as the second-oldest of 12 children. It was clear even from his youth that he was a talented athlete, as he was a three-letter athlete in high school—although none of those sports included baseball.

It wasn’t until he was discovered in a church softball league that Banks’ baseball career would finally begin. However, it didn’t take long for it to really take off.

Just three years after Jackie Robinson left the Negro Leagues and took off the Kansas City Monarchs uniform to break the color barrier in baseball, Ernie began playing with the Monarchs before signing with the Chicago Cubs and breaking the color barrier on the North Side of Chicago.

Twenty years later, he broke another barrier by becoming the first black man to manage a major league game.

Ernie was an inspiration to millions of fans regardless of their race, beliefs or even who they cheered for. Perhaps no other ballplayer played the game with such appreciation and respect. Even more importantly, he showed just as much appreciation and respect to every single person he encountered.

Despite the 512 home runs, the Gold Glove and the MVP Awards, Ernie Banks saw himself as just a normal human being until the day he passed. He never gloated about his accomplishments on the field, nor did he boast about his off-the-field accomplishments.

In 2013, Ernie was honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor bestowed upon an American citizen. After finding out that he would be receiving the honor, he gave us perhaps the best advice that anyone can give: “Do something with your life.”

Boy, did Ernie do something with his life, and it wasn’t just playing baseball. He served in the U.S. Army, played for the Harlem Globetrotters and broke color barriers. In a world and game where true heroes can seem hard to come by, Ernie never failed to be a good example of how to live one’s life. 

Go ahead and Google “Ernie Banks.” Take a look at the images of him. Notice anything? 

He’s smiling in just about every picture—even in action shots during a game.

It’s a shame that Ernie never got to see his beloved Cubs win the World Series, but he’ll still be with all of us Cubs fans when they finally do win it all. He will certainly never be forgotten in the world of baseball and the world as a whole.

Many of us Cubs fans reading this never got to see Ernie play, but we all know his highlights and career. We’ve all heard the legendary Jack Brickhouse yelling from excitement as Ernie rounded the bases for the 500th time in his career. Most of us have walked by and admired the statue of Ernie with a bat in his hands and a smile on his face in front of Wrigley Field, a fitting tribute to Mr. Cub.

That alone is a perfect example of just how great a person is; even 45 years after his career ended, Ernie Banks was still in our daily lives. Every time we would walk into Wrigley Field or turn a Cubs game on WGN, we were reminded of just how much Ernie contributed to the team, game and our lives.

Take Ernie’s advice: Do something with your life. And while you do it, make sure there is a smile on your face and a Cubs hat on your head. Take joy in being a Cubs fan and being on this earth.

No one had more joy in being alive than Ernie Banks. Though he may be gone, his No. 14 will forever fly at Wrigley Field, and his accomplishments and examples will never be forgotten. The world lost the greatest Cub on January 23 and an even greater person.

Thank you for teaching all of us how to live, play and smile every day, Ernie. Now put on those blue pinstripes; it’s time to play two.

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