There is nothing more breathtaking in sports than walking into the home clubhouse in Scottsdale, Ariz., this time of year and seeing Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Orlando Cepeda and Gaylord Perry. That's dramatic enough, but that sight becomes even greater when those former stars of the team share their considerable tales and tips with others around the room.
Ever hear of Sandy Koufax? He arrived at the Dodgers' spring camp near Phoenix last month, and franchise icon Maury Wills already was there for another one of his stints as bunting instructor. You know you can't say "Dodgers" and "Spring Training" in the same sentence without "Tommy Lasorda." He's a fixture around baseball this time of year. The same goes for 93-year-old Red Schoendienst, who came to Spring Training for the 72nd time when he joined his beloved Cardinals in Jupiter, Fla. He's in the Baseball Hall of Fame, but so is Ozzie Smith, another lifetime Cards hero who graces the team each spring.
You have to have Reggie Jackson in Tampa, Fla., with the Yankees. You have to have George Brett in Surprise, Ariz., with the Royals. You have to have Al Kaline in Lakeland, Fla., with the Tigers. You have to have Mike Schmidt in Clearwater, Fla., with the Phillies.
All of those things happened. Then you had that sight in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., where former Braves star Andruw Jones worked for the first time with his old team as an outfield coach, primarily for Minor League players. He knows a little something about fielding since he owns 10 Gold Gloves after climbing various parts of the fences in center at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium and Turner Field. Still, Jones wasn't the biggest story for the Braves this spring. Nobody and nothing involved with the tomahawk folks ever surpasses the arrival of Hank Aaron, among the ultimate of baseball royalty beyond his 755 home runs.
When Aaron passed through the home clubhouse, those present at the time said the noisy place went silent. Later, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez told reporters that Aaron didn't speak to the team, but he added, "Just having the presence of him out there was good enough."
Which brings us back to Sandberg, one of the six players to have his number retired by the Cubs. Jackie Robinson's No. 42 is retired by every Major League team, but the others are Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Ferguson Jenkins, Ron Santo and Greg Maddux. As a result, it was bizarre to see Sandberg spend parts of three seasons as the Phils' manager wearing all of that red. He's back where he belongs this Spring Training, and that is in the blue of the Cubs.
OK, if you want to get picky, Sandberg opened his Major League playing career with the Phillies, but that was for 13 games. He followed that with 15 seasons making 10 All-Star Game trips, collecting nine Gold Gloves at second base and winning the National League MVP Award on the North Side of Chicago, where he belongs forever in person.
As for now, Sandberg in Mesa, Ariz., will do just fine.
Ryno is with the Cubs in Spring Training because manager Joe Maddon invited him there and because this is just the way it should be in baseball. Simply put, all of the game's all-time great players who are healthy, willing and able should come to the spring home of the team that made them famous every year and stay as long as they can and do whatever they wish to do.
If they prefer only to breathe during their whole time, no worries. Just the fact that they are there is good enough.
So in addition to Sandberg, who coached in the Minor Leagues for the Cubs before he joined the Phils as manager from late 2013 to early '15, the North Siders have several others from their alumni base present this spring. There are former pitching standouts Rick Sutcliffe and Kerry Wood, and they serve as instructors, along with Williams, now The Greatest Living Cub since the passing last year of Banks.
"It's important to invite them," Maddon told reporters of the baseball legends in general and his Cubs guys in particular. "It's the most important thing we can do. Invite them. Now we'll morph into a more comfortable role for [Sandberg]."
Here's a suggestion: Just let Sandberg be Sandberg.