By Chris Emma-
CHICAGO (CBS) — On a brisk April morning in Wrigleyville, the same warm sentiments returned to Ryne Sandberg. Memories were renewed as the Phillies’ team bus approached Wrigley Field, driving through the neighborhood.
It brought the Cubs legend back to his 15 years of playing in Chicago. The old brick and stone buildings throughout the neighborhood, the fans lining the streets hours before each game and the marquee at Clark and Addison.
“I always got excited when I saw the ballpark,” Sandberg said.
Every young baseball player has the dream of reaching the majors, playing in baseball cathedrals like Wrigley Field. Sandberg had a Hall of Fame career, cementing his legacy as one of the all-time greats to wear a Cubs uniform. Then, he started on a new dream.
Sandberg wanted to be a major league manager, and he went to work in earning the chance. He rode the bus with the Cubs’ former Low-A affiliate in Peoria, then worked his way up to Triple-A Iowa.
The Cubs passed on Sandberg during three different managerial searches — most notably in 2010, when Jim Hendry opted to give Mike Quade the job. So Sandberg found a home in Philadelphia with the organization that drafted him. When the Phillies fired Charlie Manuel last August, Sandberg finally got his shot, first as an interim manager before he was given the permanent job after the season.
Perseverance describes Sandberg’s second journey to the majors, something his players greatly respect
“It’s obviously admirable,” said Phillies outfielder John Mayberry, who also played for Sandberg in Triple-A. “When he sets his mind to do something and creates a goal, it’s going to be realized.”
Before Sandberg’s arrival last season, the Phillies were in flux. A roster loaded with talent badly underachieved, leading to Manuel’s dismissal. Sandberg was exactly what was needed to change the clubhouse culture, players said.
“He’s brought some stability, some accountability, (and) a winning attitude,” Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon said.
Added Phillies starter Cliff Lee: “Obviously, he’s got credentials. His career speaks for itself.”
Friday wasn’t just an ordinary day for Sandberg. It was a return “home” and also the 100th home opener at Wrigley Field.
The morning saw an inauspicious start for Sandberg, getting locked out of the visitor’s gate. He had to stroll through the packed Captain Morgan Club as fans flocked around the Cubs legend.
Sandberg walked onto the tall Wrigley Field glass in his unusual Philadelphia red and surveyed the Friendly Confines. It brought back some of his most cherished memories, like the remarkable “Sandberg Game” in June of 1984 and the playoff run of ’89. Sandberg still remembers when two fans began to watch games from the outfield rooftops across the streets, something which is a ballpark tradition now.
There were the day games broadcasted nationally on WGN, allowing his family and friends home in Washington to watch each contest. Fans filled the bleachers on even the hottest of summer days to watch the Cubs play. It was yet another special recollection
“This is home for me,” Sandberg said. “This was a place that I enjoyed playing every game on television; it was a big deal to me. Everyone back home was watching, and that got me fired up to play the games.”
Before Philadelphia’s 7-2 win, Sandberg spoke with the media for 10 minutes detailing his 15 years in Chicago, but he could’ve gone for 10 hours. The cool, calm skipper couldn’t help but get caught in the moment.
“It’s a special, special day for me to be here,” Sandberg said.
As Sandberg walked off the field after batting practice, he briefly looked toward the right-field foul pole and smiled. That’s where his No. 23 flag flies in Cubs immortality.
One great legacy will last forever, but a new journey is just beginning.
Follow Chris on Twitter @CEmmaScout.