Sandberg makes most of first game back at Wrigley
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It was all wrong, and yet it was alright.
Sure, it was strange seeing Ryne Sandberg in red, not blue, and in the visiting dugout, not the home side.
But it's worked out fine for Sandberg, who is completely satisfied with his current position.
The truth is Sandberg has reason to believe he should have received better from the Cubs, but putting voice to that would not only sound bitter but also serve no purpose.
So in his return to Wrigley Field on Friday as the manager of the Phillies, Sandberg would not bite on the many opportunities afforded him to display ill will toward the cap that adorns his plaque in the Hall of Fame.
"I'm the manager of the Phillies," Sandberg said as he sat in the tiny visiting manager's office long after Friday's game had ended, bemused as anyone to be on the wrong side of the field. "Once the game started, I was managing a baseball game.
"Everything else, that's all ... that's a long time ago in baseball time. The Cubs gave me an opportunity to manage in the minors and I needed that time to figure out if I liked it and to learn how to do it. So I appreciate that. I've moved on."
Sandberg then placed his palms to the ceiling and smiled, as if to say, "What else do you need to know?"
One of the reasons he made it to the Hall of Fame as a player was his black-and-white approach to the game, which serves him well now as he handles the media and the constant conversation about his departure from Chicago.
It is what it is. He has a job. He doesn't concern himself with other jobs.
Similarly, there is right and wrong, just as there are good habits and bad. Players play, managers manage. Show up on time, practice well, play hard and don't let the standings affect your effort.
While some things about Sandberg are strikingly different from when he played, those items are still at the top of his list.
"Players like structure. I don't think that has changed even though some things about players may have changed,'' Sandberg said. "The guys have responded well to things like PFP (pitchers fielding practice) and taking modified infield (practice before games).
"Guys like to be on the field working on their game. Baseball players like being baseball players."
They also like it when their teammates show up on time, something Sandberg insisted would be the case — or face discipline — when he was given control of the team.
"Ryne came in and made some changes and addressed some issues I think were being overlooked," veteran Roy Halladay told Philadelphia reporters about 10 days ago. "I think Ryne is going to do a good job and I think he's going to bring back a little more of the Phillie baseball style than we've had the last couple of years.
"We really haven't had that whole team effort and that whole team hustle I think we had in the prior years."
Halladay specifically mentioned the lack of authority over the clubhouse under Manuel, something Sandberg quickly changed. The Hall of Famer doesn't just command respect. He demands it of teammates.
"Guys being at places on time, being on the field on time, taking groundballs, taking extra BP. All those little things that nobody thinks makes a difference," Halladay said. "I think (Sandberg) has been very good so far."
Some of these issues are nonnegotiable in Sandberg's world, so reporting late for a game is going to cost someone a fine or benching. If that happens to a Philadelphia veteran, the response from the player will be fascinating, as will be Sandberg's counterpunch.
So far, the players have responded and the 62-73 Phillies are 9-6 since Sandberg got the job, including a 6-5 victory Friday when the Phillies came from behind after trailing Jeff Samardzija 5-0 in the sixth inning.
Not what you generally expect from a team out of the race on Labor Day weekend.
"That's been a characteristic of this team for about the last two weeks," Sandberg said. "We've had three walk-offs and some comebacks like this. Guys are battling and the energy on the bench has been great. It's something I asked them for."
"Guys are pulling for each other," said Michael Young. "It makes a difference."
So does communication, something Sandberg now prides himself on, despite the obvious irony.
"He makes himself clear on what he wants and when he wants it," Young said. "Sometimes, he gives you notice a day ahead of time on stuff. It's great."
Sandberg was almost as clear postgame when he thanked Cubs fans for their ovations, yet noted the sluggish attendance, which was announced at 27,763 and looked to be about half that much.
"Empty seats is something new to me," Sandberg said. "From '84 on, this was a tough ticket here and the bleachers were always sold out."He also displayed an evolving sense of humor when he told the umpires pregame that he was more than willing to "take them through all the ground rules."
Speaking to reporters after the game, Sandberg admitted that even though every game matters to him, "This was a good one to get. It was a little bit special."
And he wasn't in a hurry for the stress of the homecoming to end.
"I was looking forward to this. This is right where I want to be," Sandberg said, as he prepared for a dinner out in Chicago with 15 family members, including five grandchildren. "I think I'm to the stage now at my age (53) where I just try to enjoy everything.
"That was a big reason for getting back into baseball when I did, and looking forward to doing it full time. I take that all in now and relish every moment of it."
He enjoyed himself plenty Friday, and as he eased back in his visiting manager's chair late in the afternoon, he looked as comfortable as I've ever seen him — in his own skin, in the job and in the uniform.
Let there be no doubt, Ryne Sandberg is a Phillie.
•Listen to Barry Rozner from 9 a.m. to noon Sundays on the Score's "Hit and Run" show at WSCR 670-AM, and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.
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