Ron Santo funeral procession passes Wrigley Field

December 10, 2010 4:03:28 PM PST
Ron Santo took one last trip to Wrigley Field Friday as his funeral procession traveled to the Friendly Confines from Holy Name Cathedral.The procession passed Tribune Tower on its way to Wrigley Field after the funeral.

The front entrance of Wrigley Field crowded with several hundred fans late Friday morning. The ballpark was a place that meant a great amount to Santo. His career began at Wrigley, and his love affair with the Cubs began there many decades ago.

"I've grown up watching the Cubs, and he was just a great guy. My son actually two years ago met him in the dugout at the Cubs. He had a long conversation with my son about baseball. He was just a genuine guy," said Michelle Bechstein. "He just told it how it was and he helped anyone he could."

Many fans chose to say goodbye to Santo at Wrigley rather than at the cathedral. Fans were silent at first as the hearse passed, but eventually broke into a round of "Take Me Out To The Ballgame" and a then applause for the Cubs' legendary third baseman .

A makeshift shrine to Santo has been building at Wrigley over the past week, with fans adding flowers, pictures and mementos to it.

"I had to be here - had to be here," said James Spears at Wrigley Field Friday. "Ron was the man - he was my favorite player since I was 10 - I grew up with him."

"He was the biggest Cubs fan there was," said Jake Fisher. "We didn't lose just a player, we lost a part of Chicago."

There was a mix of young fans, many of whom were not born yet when Santo played third base in the 1960s and early 1970s. They know him as the radio broadcaster who wore his emotions and his love for the Cubs on his sleeve. His passion was evident in everything he said when he was speaking on the radio.

"He's Chicago; he was Chicago sports. When I was a small child, I started going to ballgames [at Wrigley Field] with my dad - we used to always try to sit behind the third base line if possible because he was, I guess, our favorite player," said Pam Pytko. "As the years went on, he turned to broadcasting, and I listened to his games all the time. Sometimes I turned the TV down - sorry, Chip and Stony - but we turned the TV down and put the radio up and listened to his commentary. It was so real."

Santo was also remembered as an inspiring figure during his long fight with health problems, including the diabetes that affected him as a player and the bladder cancer that he eventually died from.

"Inspiration comes from watching the man that not only battles a disease within his own body, but dedicates his life to helping others with the same condition," said Cubs owner Tom Ricketts.

"Ron Santo was not about melancholy," said Santo's longtime broadcast partner Pat Hughes. "Ronny was about having fun, and laughing, living and loving, and the two things he loved more than anything in his life were his family and the Chicago Cubs."

Older fans in attendance at Wrigley Field Friday remembered Santo clicking his heels after many of the Cubs' victories during the star-crossed season of 1969.

"He meant a lot to me. I used to listen to him back in 1969 when I started following the Cubs, when they were in their pennant chase and ... we lost to the Mets," said Kerry Bonora. "I remember him kicking up his heels and all that with that move, and I've been a Cub fan since. He is such an icon for Chicago."

Kristina Patrick, who is too young to have ever seen Santo play, was still such a big fan that she got several autographs and even named her dog 'Santo.'

"It seems so silly, because I know that I wasn't around when he played, but I would listen to him on the radio every day and it seems like life just isn't the same without him," Patrick said.

Before leaving the Wrigley Field area, the hearse stopped underneath the Wrigley Field marquee, which had been dedicated to Santo for the week leading up to his funeral, giving fans one more chance to pay their respects.

In true Cubs style, some fans who were at Wrigley Field Friday declined to appear on camera because they were skipping work to be there.

Pat Hughes said that in his opinion, the best way to remember Santo would be to smile, because that is how he would have wanted to be remembered.


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