HAMMOND | In a stirring keynote speech delivered in the face of the Cal Ripken World Series participating teams at the Banquet of Champions Thursday night at the Jean Shepherd Community Center, Hammond native and former major league player Darrel Chaney spoke about his childhood hero, Cubs Hall of Famer Ernie Banks.
When Chaney finally got to talk to Banks at a banquet Banks himself was a keynote speaker at, he advised the then 12-year-old Chaney to "always tell the truth so you won't have to remember what you said."
Banks later signed a program for Chaney ... "See you in the majors."
When Chaney did make it to the majors, in his first game against the Cubs he doubled his first at bat.
"I couldn't stop to say hello as I was going to second," Chaney said of passing Banks playing at first base.
Chaney singled in his second at bat.
"That's when (Banks) put his arm over my shoulder like he did at the banquet when he asked me what I wanted to be in life," said Chaney, who had answered then that he wanted to be like Banks, to play in the major leagues.
"He said, 'Glad you made it here,' " Chaney said. "I don't know if he really remembered my ugly mug, or that he read a story in a local newspaper about me getting a chance to play against my idol. I didn't matter to me, Ernie Banks mattered in my life."
That same night, president Barack Obama honored Banks with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, one of the nation's highest honor to be bestowed on a civilian for meritorious service.
"We need role models in our lives, but we need good role models," Chaney said. "that's why kids and parents should go out of their way to find about potential role models.
"I mean write them a letter, asking what they're about ... what church they go to. A lot of these guys have staffs, so they'll answer you. Ernie Banks didn't have a staff, but he answered my letters anyway."
The teams participating in the Cal Ripken World Series were all immediately made three members stronger with resident bat boys as well as a pair of "Diamond Girls."
The Diamond Girls are part of Hammond's College Bound program, which helps pay one's tuition for college upon performing community service.
The Diamond Girls will serve as the team's liaison for the week-long tournament, directing the players and coaches around the area, serving as "go-fers" and assisting and troubleshooting whenever needed.