Like any good baseball man, Ryne Sandberg doesn't look ahead. He said on Wednesday his focus is always on the game to be played that day or night.
But in 24 hours, the next game will be at one of baseball's cathedrals, a place he played 1,091 games.: Wrigley Field. After the Phillies wrap up a four-game series at Citi Field on Thursday afternoon, Sandberg, the interim Phils manager, will board a plane bound for Chicago.
On early Friday morning, he'll step back into Wrigley Field.
"I guess the first thing is I’ll probably check out my flag out there on the right-field pole," Sandberg said, referring to his "23" which is among the numbers retired by the Cubs.
Sandberg, of course, had a Hall of Fame career with the Cubs. He won an MVP award in 1984, one of two times in a six-year span he helped lead the Cubs into the postseason.
But on Thursday, Sandberg recalled his first ever trip to Wrigley as a rookie with the Phillies in 1981, when he was teammates with Pete Rose, Mike Schmidt and Steve Carlton.
"Basically an All-Star team, an All-Star at every position," Sandberg said of the then-reigning World Champs. "I was in awe."
On Sept. 27, in the third game of the Phils-Cubs series at Wrigley and the second game of a doubleheader, Sandberg entered the sixth inning with the Phillies trailing 13-0. He played shortstop.
With two outs in the eighth, Sandberg singled to right field off Mike Krukow for his first major league hit.
Sandberg still has the bat and the ball today. He borrowed the bat from Larry Bowa, who he would eventually be traded with from the Phillies to the Cubs in one of the most forgettable deals in Philadelphia sports history.
"My bats hadn’t arrived yet from my order so I didn’t have any bats," Sandberg remembered of that day. "I was using a Marty Bystrom bat in batting practice and choking up on it a little bit. It was a big, ol’ bat to bunt with—a pitcher’s bat—so I was choking up and taking BP with that.
"I asked Larry Bowa if he had any extra bats I could use in the game so he loaned me a bat and I got my first hit with a Larry Bowa bat. Even today I still have the bat and the ball. It was a flair to right field slightly off the end of the bat and the Rawlings writing on the ball came off on the bat. So I have the ball and the bat and there’s no writing on the ball. It’s all on the bat.
"It was like a bottle bat with no knob. It was totally not my bat. But it was a bat."
Sandberg also remembers the storied ballpark being a bit... dead. The Cubs were out of contention and the Phillies were gearing up for the playoffs after already clinching a spot in a strike-shortened season.
"I bet there were 10-to-12 thousand people there," Sandberg said. "The ballpark of course was small. I said, 'Wow, this is a major league ballpark?' And that was also my first thought when I was traded over there. Oh, you gotta be kidding me, not there, there’s 10,000 people there. Which all changed pretty much in ’84, which was 3 years into my career."
On Friday, Sandberg will be back in a Phillies uniform at Wrigley Field for the first time since that day. He may get the loudest ovation in Wrigley history for an opposing manager.
"We’ll all see," Sandberg said. "We’ll see what happens. I’m not (banking on it). You never know. We’ll see."