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Cubs kick off season of Ron Santo honors with ceremony

The spring return baseball would always bring smile face late Cub greRSanhis sJeff said Thursday MesAriz. | Morry Gash~AP

The spring and the return of baseball would always bring a smile to the face of late Cub great Ron Santo, his son Jeff said Thursday in Mesa, Ariz. | Morry Gash~AP

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Updated: June 14, 2011 6:17AM

MESA, Ariz. — The Cubs plan to spend a good part of the 2011 season making sure the memory of former third baseman and broadcaster Ron Santo is front and center, whether it’s patches on the uniforms or a statue scheduled to be unveiled in August.

Thursday at HoHoKam Stadium was just the start of it.

Santo’s family, members of the Cubs organization and former teammates gathered for a pregame ceremony before the 2-1 win over the Cleveland Indians. Cubs players took batting practice wearing No. 10 caps.

‘‘Mixed emotions,’’ Santo’s son, Jeff, told the media after the ceremony when he was asked how the family was holding up. ‘‘We hurt for our dad, but at the same time we’re honoring him. It’s a great day, seeing his number — his life will live on for many generations. It’s an honor for us, but it gets overwhelming, too, because we miss him so much.

‘‘I will have to say that the hardest day for my sister and me was his birthday. Him not here, there’s a big void. Every [offseason], my dad would watch so many movies on the couch, so by spring he had a smile on his face because he was ready to come to the park and be a part of his second family. That smile, that optimism that every spring brought, is gone now. But we get it when we come to the field like this.’’

On the field, Jeff Santo got the Cubs faithful excited when he pointed out the patch the players will wear on their sleeves.

‘‘May that heart take you to the World Series,’’ he said. ‘‘And to you Cubs fans, for your devoted love and respect for our father, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts.’’

The topic that couldn’t be avoided Thursday was the Baseball Hall of Fame talk that always seemed to surround Santo before his death in December. He was adamant that he belonged.

How would the family react if it happened now?

‘‘It would definitely be an honor, but it’s not going to be the same if he were here — it doesn’t even compare,’’ Jeff Santo said. ‘‘Really, for our family, it’s what the Cubs are doing and the city of Chicago. I’ve got to tell you, my dad would be content knowing that’s just happening. He really would.’’

NOTES: Right-hander Randy Wells continued to make his case to be the No. 4 starter in the rotation. He threw four scoreless innings Thursday, allowing just a hit, and kept his ERA at zero through three Cactus League appearances.

‘’My britches fit just fine,’’ he joked when asked about the outing. ‘‘I’m pleased as far as you set goals for yourself.’’

After an impressive 12-10 record with a 3.05 ERA in his rookie year in 2009, Wells went 8-14, 4.26 last year. He admitted that wore on him a bit this winter.

‘‘Obviously people weren’t pleased,’’ he said. “I didn’t focus on the bad games, but I did pay attention to them. A lot of it is staying calm. Just try and keep your wits about you.’’

◆  Manager Mike Quade admitted he doesn’t know if this Cubs team is built for ‘‘eight or nine-run’’ games in the regular season, so the pitching staff will face a certain amount of pressure to keep teams in check.

◆ The Cubs have gone errorless in six of their last eight games after committing 15 errors in their first five games.

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