Ryne Sandberg showed up for the “Party of the Century” at 7:30 on Friday morning and found that the visiting team’s gate was locked. Standing in the rain, the Philadelphia Phillies manager decided to walk through the Captain Morgan Club.
“It was packed already with fans and cameras,” Sandberg said. “That was my entrance to the ballpark.”
The memories come flooding back whenever Sandberg approaches Wrigley Field. But this became a business trip, not a marketing opportunity, even though the Cubs did have him and Billy Williams throw out a first pitch and then pose with fellow Hall of Famers Ernie Banks and Fergie Jenkins. And then walk back toward the visiting dugout.
“Yeah, it was slightly awkward,” Sandberg said after a 7-2 victory.
The Cubs didn’t sell out their home opener (38,283), the beginning of a season-long celebration of Wrigley Field’s 100th anniversary. Sandberg became part of it after winning the National League’s 1984 MVP award, seeing the rooftop business explode and getting a Cubs hat on his Cooperstown plaque.
“It’s a special day,” Sandberg said. “The fan base would go out every year with the optimism: ‘This is going to be the year.’ I thought that every single year I played. I thought that was the year, regardless of who was on the roster or who my teammates were. That was the mentality.”
The Phillies (2-2) are trying to squeeze more out of their aging core and keep their window of contention open. Sandberg, a nine-time Gold Glove winner, called second baseman Chase Utley (2-for-5, home run, three RBIs) a “carbon copy” of the player he used to be on the North Side.
Sandberg went to his bullpen in the sixth inning and used five different relievers to get the last 11 outs. He even made a pitching change with a five-run lead and two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning. This on a gray day where the wind chill made it feel like 28 degrees, which didn’t go over well with the fans sticking around to the very end.
“Well, we have a heater in the dugout, so I wasn’t that cold,” Sandberg said with a laugh.
The Cubs have cleaned house since Sandberg managed at Class-A Peoria, Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa and got passed over when Lou Piniella retired in 2010. Jim Hendry’s crew and Theo Epstein’s group didn’t think he had what it takes to manage in the big leagues. Rick Renteria is now the fourth different Cubs manager in the last five seasons.
When Sandberg returned to Wrigley Field for the first time as Philadelphia’s interim manager last August, he admitted winning that game felt extra special. He even tweaked the Cubs by pointing out the empty seats and saying how it used to be “a tough ticket.”
This time, Ryno went with the vanilla answer. The Cubs job is an old story now.
“Opening Day is a big deal out here,” Sandberg said. “It’s good to take the first game and set the tone for the series. We’ll get after it tomorrow.”