Updated: August 30, 2013 8:51PM
Don’t think Ryne Sandberg wasn’t looking forward to his return to Wrigley Field Friday as a major league manager—but not out of spite.
``No, no,’’ he said long before the gates opened. ``I’m looking forward to this. This is right where I want to be. I think I’m to the stage now, my age and everything, I try to enjoy everything. That was the big reason of getting back into baseball when I did. I wanted it full-time. That’s what I did in the minor leagues.
``I take it all in now and relish it, so I’m looking forward to it.’’
There never has been anything half-hearted about the Cubs Hall of Fame second baseman, from his play on the field to his commitment to starting out in the lowest level of the minors to achieve his quest to be a major league manager.
That the grind started with the Cubs organization but ended with the Philadelphia Phillies is not a negative in his mind.
``The Cubs gave me a chance to start in Peoria, and gave me an opportunity to manage in the minor leagues. I did it for four years. That’s gone a long way. Other than that, I understand how baseball works.’’
It worked to deny him the chance twice to manage the team he played for, sending him back to the team that drafted him. The Phillies sent him again the manage its Class AAA team, where he won a second minor league manager of the year award, before promoting him to a major league coaching job this season.
He was considered the heir to Charlie Manuel, but the job came sooner than he might have expected when Manuel was let go two weeks ago.
Sandberg is the Phillies ``interim’’ manager for now, but the success he is having could change that.
``I’m doing what I want to do and that’s the main thing,’’ he said of having no assurances about the future.
``That’s baseball,’’ he said of parting with the Cubs under general manager Jim Hendry, who gave him the minor league opportunities, and again under the Theo Epstein regime.
``Moving on was important for me to get back to the major leagues is the way I looked at it,’’ Sandberg said. ``Familiar faces and familiar voices called me and I joined them with the Phillies. It didn’t take me long to feel comfortable there. That’s the other side of the coin.
``Baseball is all about relationships and in some ways who knows you and who you know. That’s the case here.
``I’ve always had that attitude that things happen for a reason. But also, I put in the work, put the time in to give myself a chance to be at this point right now.
``For me, there was no other path than what I did, starting at the bottom and moving up. I did that before when I was 18 years old and to do it again I think was perfect for me.
``I didn’t want to come here or have the opportunity I have now and not be prepared. I feel very good about that. I feel prepared, and the six years in the minor leagues played a huge part in that.’’
Wrigley Field, where his No. 23 was retired and flies daily from the right field foul pole, remains a beloved place to him.
``It means so much. It’s a little different angle from here [the visitor’s side], but this is a place that was very comfortable for me as a player. It always solved any slumps I was in as a player. With day baseball here, I saw the ball well here. Two post-season appearances that were definitely the highlights for me, and watching and also watching and being part of the transformation here with the fans, the people rooftops and the popularity of the club--all that was wrapped up in [my] career. It was a great place to be.’’
And he is ``comfortable now’’ even as a visitor.
``I feel much more comfortable now with what I’m doing than when I was 21 and not knowing if I was meant to be here [as a player]. This feels good. I think there’s no getting around the fact going to the minor leagues played a part in helping me feel comfortable with what I’m doing.
``There’s no looking back. It all feels comfortable.
``I just had to find the right entrance to come in today,’’ he said smiling.