After a Hall of Fame career with the Chicago Cubs, Sandberg, who the Phillies recently hired as third-base coach, fished and played a lot of golf while working as a Spring Training instructor with the Cubs from 1998-2006. He knew he missed the competition. He knew he missed the game. But he really got the coaching bug after reconnecting with the baseball influences from his past, when he traveled to Cooperstown, N.Y., for his Hall of Fame induction in 2005.
"That really led me to getting back on the field," he said. "That was something that really sparked me and relit a fire. I reconnected with past coaches from every level. High school, Minor Leagues, Major Leagues, big league managers -- people that helped me become a Hall of Fame player. That experience led me to where I'm at today. Baseball means a lot to me and my family. It really drove me to get back in, even if it was starting at the lower levels and working my way back up."
Sandberg has been managing in the Minor Leagues since 2007, including the previous two seasons with Triple-A Lehigh Valley. He will be the Phillies third-base coach next season, and many he believe he is Charlie Manuel's heir apparent.
But Sandberg knows there are no guarantees, even with things appearing to finally line up nicely for him. Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. tried to make that clear earlier this month when he said no promises have been made to Sandberg beyond 2013, even with Manuel's contract expiring after next season.
Sandberg is fine with that.
"I'm going to stick to what my job is," he said. "That's what I've always done. I know what my job is next year and that's what I'm going to focus on. That's kind of who I am and how I work. I focus on the job at hand and that's how I've always gone about things. That's what I'll do. I want to work hand in hand with Charlie and the other coaches. Ultimately, I want to go to a World Series and win a World Series next year."
Sandberg believes the previous six years have prepared him to coach third base and work as the team's infield instructor.
"Being a Minor League manager you really handle everything," he said. "There are a lot of things over the last six years I can apply. I've coached third base for the last six years. And even though I was an infielder, I can honestly tell you I was not aware of all of the drills for a first baseman or a third baseman -- the other positions and what they need to work on. That's what I've been doing for six years, so I feel like I have a good base on that. I feel good about that. Six years will go a long way for me."
Sandberg will put in his work at third, too. Every good third-base coach scouts the defense, knows the arms of the outfielders and the abilities of his own players: who gets the best jumps, who rounds third base best, who gets the best reads on a ball hit to the outfield.
"I also like to anticipate different balls that can be hit even before they've been hit," Sandberg said. "Basically, it's how I was as a baserunner. It's applying what I was as a baserunner now coaching and relaying the message to the baserunners. It's about making good judgments and scoring runs."
But Sandberg's ultimate goal remains to manage in the big leagues. It could happen sooner rather than later.
Questions about managing will come up occasionally when Chicago writers roll through town or a national writer pops in for a chat, or perhaps by local media if the Phillies start next season slowly. Amaro and Manuel already got several of those questions during a press conference earlier this month.
"I'm not worried about it because I don't think Charlie's worried about it," Amaro said.
"I'm not worried about it," Manuel said.
Sandberg said he isn't, either.
"We'll both be fine," he said of himself and Manuel. "I've been around him long enough. I feel like he has a trust in all of his coaches. I don't think I'd be on his coaching staff if there wasn't a trust level and a comfort level. I think we've developed a trust these last two years, both in Spring Training and in September as a callup. We're very comfortable with each other. I enjoy being around him, and I think he feels the same way about me. And now we'll work together. We have a common goal: winning as many games as we can and get to a World Series."
And that is what he plans to concern himself with next season: his job, not one that might or might not happen in the future.
"It'll be a lot of fun," Sandberg said. "It'll be a learning experience being with Charlie and working with Charlie. I've enjoyed the last two Spring Trainings and all the time we've spent together. I've learned a lot. I've enjoyed being around him. I'm very glad and very proud to be on his staff."