Fans pay tribute to Cubs legend Ernie Banks at Daley Plaza
For some it was a pilgrimage, as it was for a Cubs fan from downstate Pontiac who came to pay his respects to Ernie Banks.
For some it was quite personal.
Arlington Heights resident Lou Cella circled the Banks statue Wednesday morning, taking photos like most everyone else at the memorial for the late Cubs great who died last week at 83.
Cella has a personal stake in honoring Mr. Cub. He is the sculptor of the statue.
"He's woven through my life," Cella said. "He was my grandfather's favorite player. He was my father's favorite player. I knew the name before I ever saw him. When the '69 team took hold, I was only about 6. But I had to have a 'Cub Power' T-shirt.
"It cuts into you, the outpouring. When the Cubs decided to do the sculpture, I was overwhelmed at the emotional connection everybody seemed to have with him. This past weekend I listened to all the coverage, and I had never heard anything like it, for anyone from Chicago, really.
"Ernie stayed through everybody's lives, far behind his playing days."
Cella's statue of Banks had been undergoing repairs in Michigan, but in the aftermath of Ernie's death last Friday, the Cubs and the city of Chicago decided that a suitable public memorial would include displaying the statue at the Daley Plaza downtown.
The statue went up late Tuesday night, and from the early hours of Wednesday, people came from all over to take photos of the Banks likeness and, of course, selfies. They'll have a chance to do so through Saturday.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, accompanied by Banks' widow, Liz, laid a wreath at the base of the statue and praised Banks in brief remarks.
"While Ernie Banks was Mr. Cub and always known as Mr. Cub, the fact he is now and always will be and always has been Mr. Chicago," said Emanuel, as bells from a nearby church pealed.
Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts twice said the Mr. Cub moniker was earned by much more than Banks belting 512 home runs in a career spent entirely with the Cubs.
"If there's one thing about Ernie, it's that he loved his fans as much as they loved him," Ricketts said. "Ernie was special. He was this warm, kind, generous man who had all the time in the world for everybody.
"You don't become Mr. Cub because you play a lot of games or hit a lot of home runs. You become Mr. Cub because you love the team and you love the ballpark and you love the fans. And people know it. It's really special."
It was special for Don Niles of Pontiac.
"Of course, we wanted to come see Ernie," Niles said. "I've been a Cub fan all my life. It was too bad he wasn't able to play in a World Series. Hopefully, one of these years, we'll be able to bring it home for him."
Pete Petrakis of Wilmette was passing through the plaza when he stopped to pay tribute to Banks.
"Listen," Petrakis said. "I'm of that age where I grew up with this guy. I have a Banks jersey, the only jersey I've ever bought. He was just so important to Cub fans, when we had nothing else. Frankly, anything they can do to honor him, I'm in."
For sculptor Cella, he has been all in as the artist for statues of Banks, Harry Caray, Ron Santo and Billy Williams.
The Banks statue had stood outside of Wrigley Field since 2008, but with the ballpark undergoing a massive renovation, the piece of art was moved for repairs.
On Wednesday, Cella was able to observe fans take in his work in the middle of the city, next to the famous Picasso sculpture.
"The fact that the Cubs would honor me with that responsibility was overwhelming all by itself," Cella said. "I don't feel that I had that big a hand in it, to be honest. I know I did it. I worked on it, but it's just what Ernie meant to the fans and what he means to the organization and always will.
"He said in his speech (at the statue's unveiling), 'Even after I'm not here, this will still be here.' Thank goodness they have it, and they had it while he was still alive. That meant a lot."
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