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November 20th, 2013
06:36 PM ET

'Mr. Cub' Ernie Banks presents Obama with Jackie Robinson's bat

(CNN) - 'Mr. Cub' Hall of Famer Ernie Banks came into the major leagues with a spirit of positivity, possibility, and that unmistakable smile that gave Chicago Cubs fans faith.

He continued to blaze a trail that Jackie Robinson started when he broke baseball's color barrier. And though Banks never won a World Series, never even played in the playoffs, he now has something bigger than the most blinged-out championship ring.

Today, Banks received the 2013 Presidential Medal of Freedom, standing alongside 15 other recipients – among them former President Bill Clinton and Oprah Winfrey.

Banks let CNN in on a little secret. During the ceremony, he gave President Barack Obama something very special to him.

"I presented him with the Jackie Robinson bat. Jackie Robinson was my idol, as you know, and he was the first black to play in the Major Leagues," said Banks. "My life is really in a happy moment."

Presidential historian Michael Beschloss sent a tweet Wednesday of Banks's scouting report from 1953. It noted Banks's strength as, "Ability, all around, outstanding arm and good hitter." It also notes Banks served two years in the military, and had "very good" habits.

Asked which Major League player, both in ability and character, most reminds him of himself, Banks said, "Derek Jeter."

"He plays short stop, which I played, he's very into the game, he knows how to play the game, he's very alert," said Banks. "His main thing, like mine, was winning and going home. That was it."

Obama is a big Chicago White Sox fan, but Banks did not try to convert the president from the south side to the north side.

"I just told him I admire him, because he's like me. I'm loyal to the Cubs, and he's loyal to the White Sox," said Banks. "We're both loyal to the teams we follow and we love."

As for Banks's famous "let's play two" line, the Medal of Freedom recipient calls it "a very simple" story.

"It was a very bad day in Chicago. And I came into the locker room, and I was feeling great! And I said to all my teammates, 'It's a beautiful day - let's play two!" said Banks. "That was a time in my life that I was really excited about going to Wrigley Field."

"I was just so happy, that's what I said, 'It's a beautiful day - let's play two!' I'm going to say that today: It's a beautiful day - let's play two!" said Banks.

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