Sandberg setting goals high for Phillies

Sandberg
Sandberg
Posted: January 22, 2014

WILLIAMSPORT - Sitting on a dais last night in the grand ballroom of the Genetti Hotel in front of a throng of red-clad Phillies fans, Ryne Sandberg recalled his first major league postseason experience in 1984. It was a heartbreaker, as his Chicago Cubs lost the best-of-five NLCS to San Diego after winning the first two games.

The Hall of Fame second baseman, preparing for his first full season as the Phillies' manager, took a moment, and a deep breath, and said that series is the reason he is still working in baseball. In 16 years as a major leaguer, his team made the postseason just twice. The first was in 1984. In 1989, the Cubs lost to the Giants in five games in the NLCS, which by then had been expanded to a best-of-seven.

"I want to get to a World Series," Sandberg said during the Williamsport Crosscutters' annual Hot Stove Banquet. "I want to get there more than once."

Sandberg was one of four members of the Phillies to appear last night at the annual charity event for the Crosscutters, a short-season Class A affiliate. Sandberg was joined by third baseman Cody Asche, who played for the Crosscutters in 2011, director of player development Joe Jordan and broadcaster Gregg Murphy.

After closing out the final 6 weeks of the 2013 season as the Phillies' manager - replacing the fired Charlie Manuel - Sandberg is charged with the task of taking a team 3 years removed from setting a club record for wins, and turning it back into the playoff team it so recently was. Despite little roster turnover for a team that finished 73-89, under .500 for the first time since 2002, Sandberg said the Phillies still can be competitive.

Of course, that thought came with quite the caveat. Sandberg said the Phillies will have to remain healthy.

"Having Ryan Howard batting fourth in the middle of the lineup will be big. Being where he's at right now as far as health, he's been working his tail off all winter and he's ready to go," Sandberg said. "With the rest of the core of players, the [Chase] Utleys, the [Jimmy] Rollinses, [Carlos] Ruiz, I think they had a bad taste in their mouth last year and they want to get back to what they're used to."

The Phillies finished 20-22 under Sandberg. It was his first big-league managing opportunity. He was a manager in the Cubs' minor league system from 2007-10 before guiding the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, the Phillies' Triple A affiliate, in 2011 and '12.

Looking back on it, Sandberg said he wasn't ready for a big-league managing job when he first started in the Cubs' minor league system. Since then, he has answered the questions he needed to answer about himself to feel ready to manage in the big leagues.

"I wanted to go to the minor leagues to see if I liked it, if it was for me and I enjoyed it, and to see if I was good at it. I think I accomplished all that," Sandberg said. "When things happened the way they did last year and the next day I was taking over the team at 2 o'clock, I felt I was ready for that with the years of experience I had."

Sandberg, drafted by the Phillies in 1978 and traded to the Cubs for the 1982 season, has used the same tools he did as a player to transition to managing. He still comes to the ballpark expecting to learn something he didn't know by keeping his eyes and ears open.

He started last year as Manuel's third-base coach, picking the brain of the veteran skipper the way he did the previous two spring trainings. It's why he is optimistic he is ready to lead a team with one of the highest payrolls in baseball back to the postseason for the first time since 2011.

"This is an opportunity I've been waiting for," Sandberg said. "I think being around the team the last 3 years is going to go a long way with myself and the players.

"They got a taste of it the last 6 weeks of the season. I want the players to enjoy the game and work at it. I want them to be at their best and perform the best. That's when the game is fun and wins happen. That's what I'm anxious to get back to."

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