COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- It had been four years since Ryne Sandberg was available to make the trek to this little town of 1,834 on the banks of Lake Otsego as he chased the dream of managing in the Major Leagues.
Now that the dream is behind him, like every one of Major League Baseball's living Hall of Famers, Sandberg was glad to be back this past weekend as an ambassador for the Cubs -- the team he loves -- and coaching in the Hall of Fame Classic.
Sandberg is again living full time in Chicagoland, where he played nearly all of his 16-year-career as a 10-time All-Star second baseman and the 1984 National League MVP Award winner.
"I'm getting to do some fun things, and representing the Cubs as a Hall of Famer is part of that," Sandberg, a member of the Class of 2005, told MLB.com on Saturday. "That allows me to come back for this Classic weekend and be back here in July for the induction. I've missed the last four because of commitments, so I'm really looking forward to returning in July. It's really an outstanding weekend and I love being here, really just to see the guys."
Sandberg was a coach on Saturday under manager Andre Dawson, his former Cubs teammate, in a losing effort in the Classic. But the loss was hardly the issue. It's the fun and camaraderie of being back in uniform, surrounded by former players and fellow Hall of Famers that constantly brings these guys back.
The induction this year of Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza on July 24 is expected to be a big one. Judging by bus rentals, Hall officials said they are expecting a bigger crowd than the 40,000 people who attended last year, when 50 living Hall of Famers were on the stage for the ceremony behind the newly expanded Clark Sports Center.
It was just about a year ago that Sandberg left his post as manager of the Phillies. Only a few Hall of Famers want to manage in the Majors, and only Sandberg worked as hard as he did to get there.
Sandberg was the first since Frank Robinson (who managed the Nationals/Expos) and Paul Molitor, who is the only Hall of Famer currently managing in the Majors with the Twins.
"Yeah, I reached my goal after spending six years in the Minor Leagues," Sandberg said. "I reached the goal of managing in the Major Leagues. I would say it wasn't the best of situations in Philly, just lacking some young players and getting a start with some young guys.
"I reached that goal, and I enjoyed the opportunity I was given by [former Phillies general manager] Ruben Amaro Jr. Things just didn't work out. But I'm happy with my new role and my location as far being in Chicago."
Sandberg spent four years managing his way up the ranks in the Cubs' organization. He was named the Pacific Coast League Manager of the Year in 2010, the same year Lou Piniella retired as the Cubs' manager. The Cubs' dugout at Wrigley Field was where Sandberg longed to manage. But when Mike Quade was hired to replace Piniella, Sandberg left for the Phils, the organization that drafted him in 1978, subsequently trading him with Larry Bowa to the Cubs in January 1982.
Back with the Phillies, Sandberg managed two more seasons at Triple-A, rejoining them as third-base coach under manager Charlie Manuel. In August 2013, Manuel was dismissed and replaced by Sandberg.
Sandberg's managerial tenure was not what he expected. It lasted less than two years and traversed just one full season. He voluntarily walked away last June, with a 119-159 record and his club 22 games under .500.
"There was evidence that there was going to be changes with some new people coming in, and I was not proud of a team that was 33 games under .500 at the All-Star break," said Sandberg, explaining why he resigned so abruptly. "It was tough to swallow and for me a tough leg to stand on as far as the guy going forward."
It worked out well for all concerned. Sandberg is selling his house in the Biltmore area of Phoenix and has moved back to Illinois, where four of his five children live, along with six grandchildren. There are two more on the way by the end of the year.
The Phils did make significant front-office changes, and with a much younger team on the field, they are a surprising 26-25 under manager Pete Mackanin.
"It's good to see that the Phillies have made changes and have some good young players in there, made some good trades, that's what was needed," Sandberg said.
The Cubs, at 35-14, have the best record in Major League Baseball. About disproving the notion that you can't go home again?
"It's a good relationship," Sandberg said about being back with the Cubs. "I was in uniform all spring, and I'm at just about every home game. They give me good things to do and let me ad lib a lot. It's a great time to be around this Chicago Cubs team. They have some very good young players, and there's a lot of excitement in the city of Chicago. So it's good to be a part of all that."