Behind construction fencing and tarps printed with fake ivy leaves, the electric bulbs beneath the red Wrigley Field sign spelled out four words and two numbers:
Ernie Banks is dead. The face of the Cubs in the ‘60s and ‘70s — and the organization’s first black player — Banks died last week at the age of 84.
On Sunday night, under cold, black winds, a Wrigley Field half torn down in the throes of renovation honored its fallen Mr. Cub.
A makeshift memorial sat along the fence by where the name ERNIE BANKS had, years before, been added to the sidewalk. Flowers, candles, American flags, Old Style cans, photos fans left of their moments with Banks all peeked out half-covered by the day’s light snow.
Down Clark Street, Banks’ face smiles out from a billboard advertising Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois — that doesn’t count as memorial. It was there already, a reminder that Banks didn’t return to Cubbie limelight in death. He had never left.
The crowds that had left the memorial weren’t out in the dark that night. A few men jaywalked to the memorial, stood in respect for a moment, then pulled their coats tighter and trudged on to their destinations.
A woman hauled bags. A few diners ate alone at the McDonald’s.
The sights were construction zones and headlight beams moving slowly down the road. The sounds were the whipping and whapping of wind through the pennant flags surrounding the McDonald’s.
A turn down Waveland. Quiet. Residential, if the rooftops surrounding Wrigley can be considered homes more than businesses. Two young women in heavy coats walk by. Two spandex-clad joggers crossed in opposite directions.
A sound from above.
Above the famous hand-operated scoreboard that charted century after century of loss and heartbreak, two flags stood, whipping in the wind.
White with blue pinstripes. “BANKS 14,” they said.
A powerhouse player, Ernie Banks was also an outspoken and, the record books show, often wrong proponent of the Cubs’ chances. He was the constant cheerleader, telling the world the Cubs would take it all year after year.
Smiling and beloved, he was like the flags now filling the empty, half-renovated ballpark with the sound of whipping in the wind. Over and above whatever the scoreboard said, his happy chatter is what we’ll remember.