When Darrel Chaney was growing up, Cubs Hall of Famer Ernie Banks was his hero.
And he doesn't have to apologize for that. Neither does his father.
"But imagine a father whose son adopted Ryan Braun as a role model. What does he say to him after all this?" Chaney said of the Milwaukee Brewers star, who is serving a performance enhancing drug-related suspension. "It's the impact and influence these guys have on kids that makes all this so heart-breaking.
"Maybe this isn't so much a sports thing than a cultural thing, where people knowingly lie over an over again. It's incremental. You start with one untruth, which leads to another untruth ... and another and another, then you got a whole mess."
Despite this assessment, Chaney is not giving up on baseball or the world in general.
"The message I try to give is that, no matter who you are and how bad things might be, your life matters," he said. "Everyone's life matters."
The former major league middle infielder who was named The Times Athlete of the Year in 1966 after starring in three sports for Morton will make the first of two upcoming appearances in the region Aug. 8 at the Cal Ripken Major (60) World Series Banquet of Champions at the Jean Shepherd Center in Hammond.
Chaney will be the featured speaker, and rest assured, he's had a little practice at this.
"I've been a motivational speaker since I was a rookie in the Big Leagues," said Chaney, who also worked as an announcer on TV and radio for Atlanta Braves games, often alongside Chip Carey. "I remember speaking to the crowd at Wrigley Field when they held 'Darrel Chaney Day' back in 1970."
Chaney broke in with the Cincinnati Reds in 1969 and played in three World Series, including 1975 when the "Big Red Machine" defeated Boston in a classic seven-game series.
"Arguably, we may have been the best team of all time," Chaney said. "You got Johnny Bench, Pete Rose, Joe Morgan ... George Foster. I always tell people how satisfying it is to look back of being the presence of so many hall of famers."
As a middle infielder playing behind hall of fame second baseman Joe Morgan and perennial gold glove shortstop Dave Concepcion, Chaney played sparingly for the Reds. When he was traded to Atlanta in 1976, he finally attained full-time status and hit .252 in 564 plate appearances.
Some time after retiring from baseball, Chaney was approached by Pastor Dan Hettinger – someone Chaney often confided with during Bible studies – about putting together a spiritual-theme book with moments in Chaney's life serving as relevant anecdotes.
"I was up front when I pointed out that he never published a book before, and I didn't play that long the majors. So who would want to read it?" Chaney said. "But even when he moved away to Colorado (from Atlanta), he always kept the book idea in the back of the mind."
After a series of correspondence collaborations with Chaney traveling to Colorado to work with Hettinger and Hettinger traveling to Atlanta to work with Chaney, "Welcome to the Big Leagues: Every Man's Journey to Significance" was finally finished and was released by Morgan James Publishing in February.
Though he will appear in Hammond again on Sept. 20 for the InnerMission Inc. benefit dinner at the Area Career Center, Chaney's returns to the region have been infrequent since he and his wife, Cindy, a Clark graduate, settled in the Atlanta area.
"We've come back for funerals and family-related occasions," he said.
When Chaney asked about the location of the Shepherd Center where he will be speaking, his enthusiasm about speaking to the World Series-qualifying teams seemed to build.
"That sounds like it's pretty close to the Hessville Little League where I played," he said. "I remember my older brother (Larry) hitting a home run to get us in the championship game, and I remember the men like Mr. Dowling and George Wimmer who used to coach us and teach us more than just the game."