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Giants coach Shawon Dunston still feels love for, pride in the Cubs

Shawon Dunston in 1997, his final season as a Cub. (AP/Fred Jewell)

ST. LOUIS — Shawon Dunston cast a wary glance at the reporter lumbering toward him in the visitors’ clubhouse Sunday at Busch Stadium.

‘‘You’re walking up on me?’’ said Dunston, 54, a former Cubs shortstop and now a special assistant for the Giants. ‘‘Why are you walking up on me? You know I’m not a player, right?’’

This was going to require a good ice-breaker. The reporter riffled though his sometimes-shaky memory for a decades-old reference and gave it a shot:

‘‘I’m here to check the ‘Shawon-O-Meter.’ ’’

Laughter. Good.

Dunston had three stints with the Giants as a player. He’s in his ninth season in the Giants’ organization as a coach. But when he gets recognized by fans, it’s usually for his time in Chicago. In 1982, the Cubs made him the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. From 1985 to 1995 and again in 1997, he was their shortstop.

How to sum up the Dunston era? He was talented enough to be a two-time All-Star, but he was mistake-prone to the end. He had a spectacular arm that few, if any, big-league shortstops of his time could match. The concept of taking pitches was utterly foreign to him. He could be frustrating to watch, but no Cub played harder or was more fun.

And who could forget the Shawon-O-Meter, the sign a fan in the Wrigley Field bleachers would update after Dunston hits to show his new batting average? That was one of the most charming things about the 1989 season, when the Cubs won the National League East and went to the playoffs for only the second time since 1945.

‘‘I loved those Cubs fans,’’ Dunston said. ‘‘Whether you were the best player on the Cubs or not, they treated you like you were the best. We were in last place a lot of times, but every time we showed up to the park I thought we were in first because all the fans were just cheering and loving us and wanting us to win.

‘‘I just felt bad sometimes because I wanted to win for them. I wanted to give them my best, but what I really wanted was to give them a World Series.’’

The Cubs had only three above-.500 seasons during Dunston’s time with the team, and he missed nearly all of one of them — 1993 — with back trouble. But that 1989 group was special, with a trio of Hall of Famers in Ryne Sandberg, Andre Dawson and Greg Maddux.

‘‘We were just like the old Cubs with Ernie Banks, Billy Williams and Ron Santo,’’ he said.

Like so many former Cubs, Dunston was thrilled to see the organization finally bring home a championship last season. This, even though he was with the Giants as they were eliminated by the Cubs in the NL Division Series.

‘‘I was rooting for them after they beat us,’’ he said. ‘‘I knew they had a chance to win the World Series, and I was rooting for them hard. I was proud to be a Cub. I had no shame even when we were losing. The Cubs drafted me. I lived good because of the Cubs. They took care of me. They didn’t have to draft me; they didn’t have to let me play. But they did, and I’ll always be grateful.’’

Watching on TV as the Cubs played in November, Dunston found himself reminiscing like never before about all sorts of things. The family condo on Sheridan Road. Dinners with his wife at Lawry’s steakhouse. The friendship and guidance he received early in his career from Banks, one of the greatest shortstops of all time. The marvel he felt at watching Dawson play on one knee in the playoff loss to the Giants in 1989.

‘‘I would love to live there again,’’ he said. ‘‘If Chicago had California weather, I’d be living there right now.’’

Dunston will be back at Wrigley for a series that starts Monday. If the weather cooperates, a nice, nostalgic walk around the neighborhood might be in the offing.

Does he miss being a part of the Cubs?

‘‘I’ve been gone a long time, man,’’ he said. ‘‘But it still feels fresh, though. It still feels like yesterday.’’

Follow me on Twitter @SLGreenberg.

Email: sgreenberg@suntimes.com

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