Ryne Sandberg right where he belongs in Wrigley return
BY TONI GINNETTI Staff Reporter April 4, 2014 9:34PM
Philadelphia Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg throws out a ceremonial first pitch before their baseball game against the Chicago Cubs on Friday, April 4, 2014, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Andrew A. Nelles) ORG XMIT: NYOTK
Updated: May 6, 2014 6:14AM
Ryne Sandberg knows his way around Wrigley Field as well as anyone, so the Philadelphia Phillies’ manager knew what to do when he arrived early Friday to find the visitors’ entrance locked.
‘‘I went through the Captain Morgan Club, which was already open — and packed,’’ he said.
The Hall of Fame second baseman had dreams of his playing career turning into a managing career at Wrigley. It has, but as the Phillies’ skipper — the job he was given full-time in the offseason after finishing 2013 as interim manager.
‘‘I’m doing something I set as a goal seven or eight years ago, and to do it with the team that originally drafted me out of high school is the right place. It’s coming full-circle,’’ he said.
Cubs second baseman Darwin Barney, who in 2012 was the team’s first Gold Glove winner since Sandberg, learned under Sandberg in the Cubs’ farm system.
‘‘I always knew Ryno would be a big-league manager someday,’’ Barney said. ‘‘He obviously had the determination. He was willing to put in his time. There are a lot of ex-players, especially players of his caliber, who maybe don’t want to put in the time [in the minors]. And he’s a guy who respects the game enough, and you could just tell that he was willing to do that.
‘‘I think it’s going to pay off for him and the Phillies and whoever he winds up managing in the future.’’
The home opener at Wrigley on the park’s 100th anniversary was the right place for Sandberg.
‘‘This is home for me,’’ he said from the visitors’ dugout where he first sat last September in his interim manager role. ‘‘This was a place I enjoyed playing in — every game on TV was a big deal to me because I knew everyone back home was watching me, and that fired me up. But I also enjoyed the day games.
‘‘Any time I was slumping, Wrigley Field always fixed me — except in April,’’ he joked. ‘‘I hit .230 in Aprils.’’
Sandberg joined the other living Cubs Hall of Famers — Ernie Banks, Billy Williams and Fergie Jenkins — to throw out the ceremonial first pitch on a dreary day akin to the Aprils of his career.
‘‘I’m familiar with everything, but I don’t think there’s a big advantage,’’ he said of ‘‘knowing’’ the park. ‘‘You remind the fielders to check the [flags]. And the sun would play a big role in this field, though it’s cloudy today.’’
Mostly, Sandberg can tell his team what they would know for themselves when they step on the field.
‘‘It’s just a good atmosphere for baseball,’’ he said. ‘‘I’d talk to opposing players when they’d be at second, and they’d say how this is real-time baseball.’’
The baseball world best remembers the ‘‘Sandberg Game’’ of June 23, 1984, when his consecutive game-tying home runs off another future Hall of Famer, Bruce Sutter, defeated the St. Louis Cardinals in that playoff year.
‘‘That was a special game for the team and me personally as far as taking my game to a different level,’’ he said.
It also catapulted him to his first All-Star Game — ‘‘I was in second place in the voting, and within three days I got past Steve Sax’’ — and the MVP award that season.
Sandberg was part of two playoff teams, ‘‘but I thought that every single year,’’ he said of Opening Day optimism. ‘‘No matter who was on the roster, you were hoping to get to the postseason.’’