"When I got the call, it was just hard to believe. What, what, the Medal of Freedom?" said Banks.
That was Banks' reaction when he says presidential advisor Valerie Jarrett called him with the good news.
The eleven-time MLB All Star Hall of Famer has a bronze statue that bears his likeness outside the friendly confines where he made history. But for all those achievements, he says, this honor tops the list.
"I cherish the honor that Barack is bestowing in me. I am so excited, I am thinking about my mom and dad and I wish they could be here with me," said Banks.
The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the nation's highest civilian honor presented to an individual who has dedicated their lives to enriching others. TV mogul and talk show host Oprah Winfrey and President Bill Clinton are among the 16 being honored at the White House.
"It's an award that talks about Jackie Robinson's life, that if you haven't done anything with your life unless you have given to others," said Banks.
Banks says will be passing the symbolic torch when he gifts the president with an official Jackie Robinson bat.
Mr. Sunshine, as he is affectionately called, said his journey leading up to this prestigious ceremony hasn't been all bright in the outfield, and he didn't always receive praise at home plate.
"I came through segregation. . . Being in the Negro Leagues, small buses, small towns when they couldn't get gas at the pumps or service at restaurants," said Banks.
So Tuesday night, on the eve of the ceremony, this 83-year-old reflects on the significance of a Chicagoan and the first African-American president honoring him with this prestigious award.
"It's happening to me, and it's really powerful," said Banks.
The ceremony begins Wednesday at the White House at 10 a.m. Former teammate Billy Williams and the Cubs owner Tom Ricketts will be in the audience.