For Sandberg, Phils' manager role feels like home

CLEARWATER — In many ways, new Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg believes he has come full circle.

Before Sandberg, 54, became the Cubs' Hall of Fame second baseman, a 10-time All-Star and National League MVP, he was a seen-but-not-heard teenager in the same Carpenter Complex where he works today.

Sandberg, a 20th-round pick of the Phillies in 1978, watched the likes of Pete Rose, Mike Schmidt and Larry Bowa, absorbing their preparation styles like a sponge.

"They didn't want anyone to work harder than them and I never forgot that," Sandberg said. "This is 35 years ago, and I was being shown how to play the game and how to go about it the right way. And I still haven't forgot it, and that's what I want to instill in today's team."

Sandberg — who played only 13 games for the Phillies before being traded to the Cubs along with Bowa, now Sandberg's bench coach — has brought a blue-collar feel to his first spring training as big-league manager, having taken over for Charlie Manuel in August. Sandberg set the tone during the final 42 games last season, when they went 20-22.

Players say Sandberg showed some swagger but didn't use his status as "my way or the highway," remembering what it was like to struggle. He communicated his desire for structure and attention to detail.

Every morning this spring, Sandberg has talked about energy and spark, things closer Jonathan Papelbon said the Phillies were missing the past two seasons when they missed the playoffs, including a 73-89 mark in 2013.

"He's obviously one of the greatest players to play the game," said Phillies outfielder John Mayberry, who also played for Sandberg at Triple A. "And that comes through in how he approaches the managerial role. He definitely values work ethic, and I believe that's ultimately going to get us back where we need to go. (You've) got to start from the ground up."

That's how Sandberg viewed his unlikely path to his first big-league managing job, spending six years in the minors riding buses and learning his trade.

"I'd say in some ways I have more confidence in what I'm doing now than I did as a player, which is kind of interesting," Sandberg said. "Just being older, knowing more about the game, more comfortable, experiencing a lot more things and being comfortable in my shoes is where I'm at right now."

Former Cubs manager Don Zimmer said Sandberg was the kind of player any manager would want. But both Zimmer and former teammate Rick Sutcliffe said they never thought the quiet Sandberg would become a manager himself.

"I didn't, either," Sandberg admits.

He said things started changing following his 1997 retirement after he spent time as a guest instructor with the Cubs, who trained near his Arizona home. He enjoyed teaching and working with players, and with his five children through college, he was looking for something to do.

"The wheels started turning," he said.

When Sandberg got inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2005, he was reunited with his former managers, including Zimmer, Dallas Green and Jim Frey. Sandberg wanted to try managing, and their feedback was, "Go learn your trade" and "Be yourself."

While Zimmer said not many Hall of Famers would manage in Class A, Sandberg jumped right in, moving his way up each level, as he did as a player.

"I'm old school and I felt like I had to prove myself," Sandberg said. "Rather than, 'Well, I'm a Hall of Famer now, I want to be a major-league manager,' I don't believe in that. And I wouldn't want that because I don't think I could do a good job in those circumstances."

Sandberg wanted to see if he liked it, if he was good at it. It didn't take him long, deciding during that first season in 2007 with the Cubs' Class-A Peoria affiliate that managing was what he wanted to do.

After spending four years in the Cubs system, Sandberg — whose No. 23 is retired at Wrigley Field — was passed over in 2010 in favor of Dale Sveum. But he found a home with the Phillies, managing two years at Triple A before becoming third-base coach last season.

"One thing I know about Ryno, this is whether you're playing pool, basketball, golf with him, he's not going to do anything that he's not good at," Sutcliffe said.

"There's no way that he would have gone about the idea of being a big-league manager if he didn't know he was going to excel at it. There's no doubt that he will."

Joe Smith can be reached at joesmith@tampabay.com.

Blue Jays

Games: Florida Auto Exchange Stadium, 373 Douglas Ave., Dunedin

Tickets: (727) 733-0429; bluejays.com

Workouts: 9:30-11:30 a.m. at Bobby Mattick Training Center, 1700 Solon Ave., Dunedin

Spring opener: Feb. 26 at Phillies, 1:05

Phillies

Games: Bright House Field, 601 Old Coachman Road, Clearwater

Tickets: (727) 467-4457; phillies.com

Workouts: 9:30-11:30 a.m. at Carpenter Complex, adjacent to Bright House Field

Spring opener: Feb. 26 vs. Blue Jays, 1:05

Yankees

Games: Steinbrenner Field, 1 Steinbrenner Drive (corner of Martin Luther King Jr. and Dale Mabry), Tampa

Tickets: (813) 879-2244, yankees.com

Workouts: 9:30-11:30 at Steinbrenner Field

Spring opener: Feb. 26 at Pirates, 1:05

For Sandberg, Phils' manager role feels like home 02/18/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 18, 2014 10:33pm]

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