CHISportsNation

We all have our favorite player. I remember all my favorites from when I was young. Jose Cardenal was my first favorite. I think I was mesmerized by his giant Afro that would pop out almost as soon as he started running and his cap and/or helmet  would fly off.

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Then there was Dave Kingman. King Kong. I was too young to know what a jerk he was. He was my Cubs hero for awhile. I had this image framed on my dresser. I knew the autograph wasn’t actually from his hand, but I didn’t care.

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There were others. Rick Reuschel was a fat guy playing baseball, so of course, as a fat kid, I gravitated towards him.

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But my all time favorite Cub? For me, that’s easy. Keep in mind, I was just a bit too young to see Mr. Cub Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Ron Santo, or most of the other Cubs greats. For my favorite, you need only to look to right field. The Hawk. Andre Dawson.

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I remember reading the newspaper (Google that if you’re too young) that the Cubs had signed Dawson. By this time I was old enough to know the entire baseball universe didn’t wear blue pinstripes, and Dawson had toiled in relative anonymity in Montreal. He did win the 1977 Rookie of the Year, and was part of a team that went to the playoffs in 1981. I probably didn’t really grasp the concept of him giving the Cubs a blank contract and signing for $500,000 base pay. Think the Cubs got their money’s worth?

I remember the stat line from the 1987 season by heart. I don’t need to look it up. .287 avg, 49 homer runs, 137 RBI, and Gold Glove fielding. I will defend his MVP award for that year till the day I die. I don’t care that the Cubs finished in last place. Obviously with those numbers it was his fault right? He had the best season and it wasn’t even close. He came up 1 round tripper short of the 50 mark, which in those days was a HUGE deal. No one had done it since George Foster for the 70’s Reds at that time.

I witnessed The Hawk’s greatness in person one day, and I will never forget it. The Cubs were playing the Braves. Steve Wilson was on the mound for the Cubs (Google him if you’re young too). The Cubs got out to a 6-0 lead, but slowly but surely, the Braves chipped away at it, taking an 8-6 lead on a Jeff Blauser 2 run homer. So here it is, bottom of the 9th, 2 outs. Mark Grace walks. Up steps Dawson. CRACK! 2 run homer to tie it and send it to extras. Then in the 11th, Dawson again, CRACK! a walk off home run to win it. The whole crowd leaving Wrigley was 1 big Andre Dawson fan club that day.

I finally got to meet my hero many years later after he’d retired. I used to go to Ft. Wayne to see the Single A team there, called the Wizards at the time, now changed to the Tin Caps. I didn’t know it going up, but when I got there, Andre was there signing autographs. I quickly bought a ball in the pro shop, paid my $8 and got in line. I was getting more and more nervous the closer I got. The guy in front of me gave him a ball and told him where to sign it, and started talking about some game 20 years ago. Andre just sat and listened,, nodded, and said he remembered. Whether he did or not, who knows? All I was thinking was “don’t say anything stupid. don’t say anything stupid.” I immediately proceeded to say something stupid. I handed him the ball, and I just said “Sign it anywhere you want.” OK, that was alright. But then I hear myself blurt out “You were my hero.” OH MY GOD! I quickly tried to recover with “But I’m sure you’ve heard that a few times.” He chuckled and said “Yeah”. Then my arm became possessed and I shoved it out to him to shake hands. What am I doing? Nobody else had done this. The Hawk, being the classy individual that he is, didn’t hesitate to reach out and shake my hand.  A stupid as I felt at the time, I am glad I got to shake hands with the legend himself.  And I am glad I got away with the $8, because I’m sure now that he is rightfully in the Hall of Fame, his autograph goes for a few bucks more than that.

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Dawson went into the Hall as an Expo, but to me, he will always be a Cub. The man went through hell on his bad knees just to get ready to play a game. They say you shouldn’t meet your heroes because you’ll be disappointed. well, I sure wasn’t.

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