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Cubs legends recall when they fell in love with the game of baseball

6 months agoAndy Martinez

It’s gotta start somewhere.

There’s a specific moment where everyone fell in love with America’s pastime. Whether it’s a fan, a semi-pro player or a legend of the game, anyone with a connection to baseball has had their “Ah-ha!” moment.  For some it was at a young age. Take, for example, Hall of Fame second baseman Ryne Sandberg.

“[I] fell in love probably between 8 and 10 years old watching the Saturday games of the week,” Sandberg said on a recent episode of “Icons of the Ivy” on Marquee Sports Network.

He and his brother would watch a handful of innings from the game that usually featured the Cincinnati Reds’ Big Red Machine, the historic Pittsburgh Pirates teams or the Dodgers, then the pair would run out to the backyard and mimic what they had just seen.

“And we do the lineups — left-handed, right-handed,” Sandberg said. “We’d keep score. We’d have a season.”

Watching a legend play at a young age can help nurture that passion, too.

“My brother used to play on the same team as Henry Aaron,” Hall of Famer Billy Williams said. “And I remember going to see the Mobile Black Bears play. And I saw the fun that those individuals were having on a baseball field.”

Falling in love with baseball at a young age can make you dream of reaching the highest points of the game, regardless of how far-fetched those dreams may seem.

“I can recall, we had to fill out vocational interest forms,” fellow Hall of Famer Andre Dawson said. “And I said, I have aspirations to be a professional baseball player. And my counselor, she would look at me and she said, ‘OK, what’s your next choice?’ Well, you know, I just have the sense that this is what I really want to do in life.

“I was encouraged at a very early age to just follow your dreams by my grandmother, whose better wishes were for me to get my education. But I think right around probably 15 or so. I just knew that hey, this is what I wanted to do.”

Sometimes, the love of the game takes some time to sprout. Like baseball itself, it requires some patience.

“I didn’t fall in love with the game until I started pitching at the age of 16,” Hall of Fame pitcher Fergie Jenkins said. “But when Gene Dziadura, the scout that ended up signing me, got me interested in pitching. I was 15, going to be 16 that winter. My birthday is in December, and I pitched the next year.

“All of a sudden baseball was part of what I thought that might be something I really, really would fall in love with. And it ended up being true. And he knew exactly before I did, that pitching was going to be the vocation that I would take up and I loved it after that.”

And sometimes, you have to rediscover the passion for the game after losing it. Suffering a tough setback can cause that.

“When the Cubbies decided to make me a relief pitcher, I’m like ‘OK, I’m through with the game of baseball, I’m gonna go home,’” Hall of Fame reliever Lee Smith said.

A little pep talk can help you remember that love.

“I can’t say on air what Billy [Williams] actually said to me, but you know, he said to me, he saw where the game was changing and this relief pitcher,” Smith said of their conversation. “So, I had to work at things. But it was probably once [I got to] Double-A, Triple-A to the big leagues where I really learned and understood the game and started loving the game a little.”

For those four, the love of the game led them on a trajectory that would endear them to Cubs fans everywhere.

“I just tried to surround myself with the people I thought would be motivational, inspirational, pat me on the back if that was warranted. You know, kick me in the rear end if that was necessary,” Dawson said. “I just followed my dreams.”

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