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Ernie Banks and me

Even though I am a Yankee fan through and through, one of my all-time baseball heroes is “Mr. Cub” Ernie Banks.

I loved watching him play. Who wouldn’t? The man loved baseball. His catchphrase was “Let’s play two,” because playing a single game wasn’t enough for this first-ballot Hall of Famer.

You didn’t have to live in Chicago or be a Cubs fan to admire his enthusiasm for the game.

And even though I always wanted to be a Major League Baseball player – for the Yankees, of course – Ernie Banks was always one of my favorite players.

What I learned from Ernie Banks was that you should love what you do. And, for me, working in journalism was the next best thing to playing shortstop for the New York Yankees. It has never been a job for me. People wonder how I deal with the stress. Stress? This isn’t a job. It’s the fulfillment of a fantasy!

[See Ernie Banks slam one out of the park:]

By the way, I didn’t just learn this lesson from watching Ernie Banks play. I also got to play with him – as a teammate when his Major League career was long over.

I started the longest-running Hollywood celebrity fast-pitch softball league back in the 1970s. As far as I know, it’s still going strong today – even without me. I left Hollywood never to look back in 1990. But I’ll never forget the opportunity I had to play part of a season with Ernie Banks as my first baseman. I was the player-manager for the Nighthawks in that league for more than a decade. I played shortstop and pitched.

One day, we noticed an older man watching our game in Santa Monica. He had watched more than one game. One of my teammates asked if he liked baseball. He said he did. Turns out it was Ernie Banks!

On a lark, we asked if he’d like to join us. He said sure.

And for the rest of that season, he became my first baseman.

I cannot tell you what a thrill it was every time I had to throw over to first base from shortstop to see Ernie Banks receiving the ball. It was a fulfillment of my first fantasy – to play Major League Baseball.

Ernie Banks was my age now when he was playing for my team in the 1980s. He’s 82 now.

What an inspirational figure.

What brings this up today?

Recently, my job at WND was becoming more stressful than it had ever been before. It was not as much fun as it had been previously. I was letting things get to me in ways they never could before. It got so bad I allowed it to make me sick enough where I had to be briefly hospitalized.

I thought about Ernie Banks as I lay in the hospital bed with intravenous fluids pumping saline solution into my dehydrated veins. I realized I temporarily lost sight of how much fun my job could be.

Just thinking about the Ernie Banks’ “let’s play two” spirit gave me a lift.

When I checked out of the hospital, I was determined not to let anything interfere with my passion for “the game” again.

I’m back. I’m ready to play two. I’m ready to do it every day. It’s not work. It’s fun. It’s what I enjoy. It’s the best job I could ever have – besides playing with Ernie Banks.

So this is a thank-you letter to a guy who probably doesn’t even remember playing with me on the Nighthawks. I’m sure his 19 seasons with the Cubs eclipse that experience. I’m sure all his All-Star Games eclipse that experience. I’m sure his 512 home runs eclipse that experience.

But, for me, it was the opportunity of a lifetime and the fulfillment of a fantasy beyond my imagination.

So, let’s play two!

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