CHICAGO (Reuters) - Chicagoans young and old and from all walks of life on Friday streamed past the closed casket of baseball great Ernie Banks, the Cubs Hall of Famer, paying their respects to one of the city’s biggest heroes.
Banks, known as “Mr. Cub” and “Mr. Sunshine,” died on Jan. 23 at age 83.
Friday’s visitation and his funeral, scheduled for Saturday, are taking place at the Fourth Presbyterian Church on Chicago’s upscale shopping street Michigan Avenue.
Chicagoans revered him for his ever-optimistic personality and unswerving dedication to his former team, the often hapless Cubs.
“I love Ernie Banks, he brought class and love to Chicago. He showed us what it was about,” said retired police officer and lifelong Cubs fan Fernando Threet, 77, after attending the viewing. “It was so tearful. I met him once about ‘75, he’d been retired 2-3 years. What a gracious man.”
“What power,” Threet said about watching Banks hit a ball over the left field fence at Wrigley Field when he went with his father to see Banks play.
Fans wore Cubs baseball caps, shirts and scarves as they filed through the spacious church and bowed their heads briefly before a photo of the player that was placed above the casket, draped with a blue-and-white striped cloth with Banks’ number 14. The team retired the jersey number in 1982.
“I came to pay my respects to a great man, not just a baseball player. He’s done so much for Chicago and its children,” said an emotional Melanie Rios, a 32-year-old esthetician wearing a Cubs stocking cap.
Banks was the first black player on the Cubs, joining the team in 1953. In 19 seasons, the shortstop and first baseman hit 512 career home runs before retiring in 1971. Two years ago he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.
Cubs owner Tom Ricketts and U.S. Senator Dick Durbin were among the people who went to the visitation on Friday. Ricketts is scheduled to speak at Saturday’s memorial service along with Banks’ twin sons, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner and civil rights leader Reverend Jesse Jackson.
Editing by Will Dunham