CHICAGO (AP) Ernie Banks fans got their first chance to pay their respects to the most famous and beloved Chicago Cub who ever played after the statue of the Hall of Famer was placed in a downtown plaza Wednesday.
One after another, fans stopped in Daley Plaza to take photos of the statue that normally stands at Wrigley Field. The city and the Cubs took the unprecedented step of taking the statue out of storage - where it was being held while the ballpark is renovated - and putting it on public display away from its usual home.
The 83-year-old Banks died Friday of a heart attack. A visitation will be held this coming Friday, followed by a memorial service Saturday.
By 7:30 a.m. Wednesday, the plaza was growing crowded with fans admiring the statue of Banks, frozen in the batting stance that kids in Chicago in the 1950s and 1960s grew up imitating. They told stories about their connections to Banks, whether it was watching him play or meeting him.
''My family and my brothers were always watching him on TV and there was nobody like Ernie Banks,'' said McKenzie Holmes, 51, his postal worker uniform topped off with a Cubs hat. ''My brother just passed and I was thinking he's up there playing catch with Ernie now.''
Trudi Burns took pictures for her son. Though he's 23 and has only seen Banks in action on clips of games played long before he was born, Burns said he insisted she take a photo.
''It's his birthday this month and he said, `Mom, I don't want anything else. I just want a picture of Ernie,''' she said, adding that the day Banks died her son named his new puppy Banks.
Jim Kosik, 54, told of how Banks signed a ball for him in the 60s - a ball he has since lost. He, too, took pictures, for himself and his family.
''I will send a photo to relatives who left Chicago so they can share the moment,'' he said.
Later, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, accompanied by Banks' widow, placed a wreath at the statue, saying that while Banks has long been known as Mr. Cub, he ''always will be and always has been Mr. Chicago.''
The statue will remain at Daley Plaza through Saturday, just a few feet away from a Picasso sculpture - an ironic placement given that in 1967 an alderman called on the city to replace what he saw as a hideous piece of junk with a statue of, that's right, Ernie Banks.