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Ernie Banks: A Beacon for Baseball

Chicago Cubs legend to be honored for contributions to civil rights

Q. Was there a bit of a culture shock at first?

A. No, I had learned a lot about race relationships watching people who were ahead of me like Jackie Robinson, who opened the door for black ballplayers in the major leagues. But it was a different experience for my father. When he first came to Chicago, he was afraid of all the people, especially white folks. The first game he went to at Wrigley Field there were all these kids that wanted autographs. He didn't know what to make of it. I remember looking up and seeing him in the stands. He couldn't sit down. It was frightening to him.

Q. What was the most profound moment of your baseball career?

A. Being elected to the All-Star team in 1955. To play with the best of the best in both leagues, that was very profound in my life. It was in Milwaukee that year, and Stan Musial hit a game-winning home run for the National League in the 12th. What was so amazing is he said he was going to do it before he went up to bat. He said, "Well, boys. I'm gonna end this. The roast beef is getting cold [waiting for me at home]." Athletes are amazing people.

Q. You've done quite a bit of philanthropy since retiring in 1971. Tell us about your foundation.

A. Ernie Banks Live Above and Beyond was set up in 1998 to help underprivileged senior citizens and children. We've awarded 32 students with scholarships from $500 to $1,000 and provided schools, community centers and organizations with everything from sports equipment to quality-of-life seminars.

Q. You also established a palliative care program in honor of your mother, Essie, who passed away two years ago.

A. That's right. Our goal is to educate family members, caregivers and individuals about palliative care. We work with the International Association for Hospice & Palliative Care. The program tries to improve the quality of an individual's existence during the last phase of life.

Q. Your father taught you how to play baseball. What did you learn from your mother?

A. She used to say, "Ernie, be satisfied with what you have and miracles will happen." I always remembered that. Whenever people in baseball would say, "Wouldn't you like to be with another team so you can play in the World Series?" I didn't say anything. [The Cubs' last championship was in 1908.] But the answer to that was, "No, I'm satisfied playing for the Cubs, playing day-baseball in Chicago, the middle of the United States." I was satisfied with that.

Craigh Barboza is a writer in Washington, D.C., and the editor of MyDVDinsider.com.

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