The first of my mini blue helmets goes to reader Chris, who indicated that he wanted to hear a story about Ryne Sandberg. He didn’t say that in so many words, actually. He just gave me Sandberg’s name, and I’m taking it from there.
You might think that there’s not a lot that can be written about Ryne Sandberg that hasn’t already been said–he’s a Hall of Famer, with his name and number on a flag hanging from a foul pole at Wrigley Field, and soon to be the Cubs’ new manager (I hope, I hope). I’ll let better writers than I am go on about those. But here’s a story that has never, ever been told about Ryne Sandberg, and will never be told again. So get comfortable as I take you back in time for a little bit.
It was the spring of 1988. Wrigley Field was still the only ballpark that didn’t have lights (but that would change in a couple of months). I was a sophomore at Northwestern, and my class schedule had been carefully chosen so that my afternoons were free and clear. I think the content of a class, or the professor who taught it, was secondary in those days to when the class actually met. If only we could always pick the schedule that we want.
The el that was a block or two from the campus, and was always ready to take me into the city of Chicago. It’s a large, vibrant, and diverse city, and one day it would become my home. But at that time in my life, the city for me consisted of the general vicinity of the corner of Sheffield and Waveland Avenues on the North side. And that’s where I was headed on a sunny Friday afternoon.
I usually sat in the bleachers, because the tickets cost less than 10 dollars, but on this day I was sitting on the first base side of the grandstand. I went with some people from my dorm who hadn’t been to Wrigley Field before, and I was showing them how easy it was to get there. I was being a tour guide, of sorts. Taking them to attend services at an urban cathedral! Yeah, that’s the ticket!
What I remember the most about this game was that it was the first time I ever noticed Wrigley Field doesn’t have a jumbotron. It didn’t have one then, and it doesn’t have one now. I’d like to see that change, but the matter isn’t really up to me, either.
At some point during the game, I went to get some hot dogs or whatever else there was at the concession stand (I wasn’t yet 21, and didn’t feel confident enough to try getting beers at the concession stand. They card hard, you know). As I was walking up the stairs to my seat, I heard a loud roar. I came up the steps in time to see Ryne Sandberg crossing home plate.
I sat down in my seat, distributed whatever food I had acquired, and lamented the fact that there was no replay at the ballpark. If you miss something, well, that’s just too bad. Pay closer attention next time. A lesson learned, I thought to myself.
The next inning, I was engaged in a conversation with somebody about something when I heard a loud crack of the bat. We all got to our feet and watched the ball disappear into the bleachers, and I had missed my second home run of the game. Again, no replay for me or anybody else who wasn’t watching. But at least the runs still counted.
The player who hit the second home run was a catcher named Jim Sundberg. I found it interesting that their last names were just one letter apart from each other. Sandberg and Sundberg. It sounded like a law firm or something. But they both hit homers for the Cubs, and that was enough to make me happy.
It wasn’t until I googled Jim Sundberg, in preparation for writing this, that I learned just how different these two players were:
- Sandberg was a long-time Cub who got all but one of his career hits with the team, while Sundberg played just a handful of games over a season and a half with the Cubs.
- Sandberg was a National Leaguer for his entire career, while Sundberg played all but 85 games (in a career that lasted nearly 2000 games) in the American League.
- Sandberg won an MVP award in 1984, but not a World Series title, while Sundberg never won an MVP award but did win a World Series with Kansas City in 1985.