|Hall of Famer Sandberg takes a swing at managing|
|Written by Admin|
|Thursday, 03 May 2007 15:02|
After a Hall of Fame career as a Cubs second baseman, Sandberg is a rookie again. He's taking a try at managing, guiding Chicago's Class A Midwest League affiliate in Peoria, about 2 1/2 hours southwest of Wrigley Field.
``I tell these guys all the time that we're all kind of in the same boat. We're all in A ball trying to get someplace, trying to get to the upper level. So I'm right there with them,'' he said.
``It's been a long time, so it's almost kind of nice,'' he said. ``It's been 25, 30 years, so the buses are nicer than the buses I rode on, I can guarantee you that. We have movies going and everything, so that's pretty comfortable.''
The 47-year-old Sandberg was a 10-time All-Star, finishing with 282 home runs, 1,061 RBIs and a .285 batting average. The 1984 NL MVP played on just three winning teams in 15 seasons with the Cubs.
He's off to a better start with the Peoria, opening up 13-10.
Sandberg's star power also is filling seats in a league stocked with prospects, rather than household names. Peoria's season ticket sales are up 10 percent this year, and sales of shorter five-, 10- and 15-game packages have increased up to 35 percent, Chiefs President Rocky Vonachen said.
``For us, it's a once in a lifetime opportunity to have someone like Ryne, a Hall of Famer, right here in the middle of Cubs country ... We knew it would be exciting for us, but it's probably above all our expectations, the buzz he has created,'' Vonachen said.
All over the league, fans are waiting when the team's bus arrives for games and exits after them, hoping for Sandberg autographs.
``He's good for the league,'' said George Spelius, in his 21st year as Midwest League president. ``A Hall of Famer coming to your ballpark doesn't happen that often, so people are going to take advantage of the chance to see him.''
Sandberg credits former Cubs manager Dusty Baker with getting him enthused about managing.
Following his retirement in 1997, Sandberg worked for the Cubs every year as a spring training instructor, a six-week gig that he called ``my fill of baseball that I needed.''
But about three years ago, Baker started giving Sandberg more responsibility, letting him run a few meetings and coach the bases during exhibition games.
``I just had good feelings leaving the ballpark, being more involved. And I think I was looking for more of a way to get into it full time and have an impact and see where that led me with my career,'' Sandberg said.
When Baker's contract wasn't renewed last year after four seasons, Sandberg - his five children now grown - made a late pitch for the Cubs' managerial job.
The Cubs hired Lou Piniella, but Sandberg's interest landed him in Peoria, where he replaced former teammate Jody Davis, who moved on to the Cubs' Class A team in Daytona, Fla.
``I enjoy the competition and I enjoy the feeling of winning a baseball game,'' Sandberg said. ``As a player, I thought that was the best part, after a game shaking hands with my teammates at the middle of the diamond. A lot of things were pretty good when you were doing that.''
Some Chiefs players say they were a little star-struck at first by Sandberg, who they watched on television as kids. But they say his easy style now has them picking his brain, hoping to unlock secrets to big league careers.
``He's been in the same shoes as us. He's been in the minors, then all those years in the big leagues. He's been through it all,'' shortstop Dylan Johnston said.
Chiefs outfielder D.J. Lewis joked that it was Sandberg's choice of shoes that showed him the Hall of Famer was just a regular guy, not a prima donna.
``He wears Vans. It shocked the hell out of me, $30 Vans,'' Lewis said, drawing laughter from other players before an afternoon workout. ``A lot of people have money and big egos and this and that, but he's as laid back as a coach can be.''
The first-year manager says he's trying to follow the same advice he gives his young players - learning something every day to inch closer to the majors.
``It's not easy. It's about trying something different sometimes. It's about making adjustments. It's about battling and sweating a little bit. But it's also about having fun along with it,'' Sandberg said.
Sandberg, one of 63 living baseball Hall of Famers, hopes to eventually become the 61st Hall of Fame player to manage in the big leagues, joining a select fraternity that includes Yogi Berra, Ty Cobb, Frank Robinson and Ted Williams, according to research by the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Ideally, Sandberg hopes managing puts him back in his blue No. 23 Cubs jersey, retired after he was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2005.
``But I know how baseball is and there's no guarantees in this game ... (so) you kind of work and try to learn something every day and there's 30 teams out there,'' said Sandberg, whose career .989 fielding percentage is the highest ever at second base.
Sandberg says managing could help cap a career that included division titles with the Cubs in 1984 and 1989, but fell short of the team's first trip to the World Series since 1945.
``That's really why I played, to win and to get to the postseason,'' Sandberg said. ``Those two clinching nights were something else. I think the only thing missing was the one visit to the World Series. Maybe I'll get there in this capacity.''