Sandberg's former players thrilled for his chance

Sandberg's former players thrilled for his chance
August 18, 2013, 2:15 pm
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Ryne Sandberg, seen here managing the Tennessee Smokies in 2009, was named the Phillies' interim manager on Friday. (AP)

Ryne Sandberg is getting rave reviews.

In the wake of the former Cubs great Sandberg being named manager of the Philadelphia Phillies, his former players -- the guys he coached when managing in the Cubs’ minor league system -- used nothing but positives to describe the type of manager Sandberg was and is.

“It was great to play for him,” Cubs reliever Blake Parker said. “He’s a player’s manager, he’s been around the game, he knows the game. In the couple years that I played for him, you could see him growing as a manager, and I’m sure he’s grown since then and with the Phillies. I wish him all the best, and I know he’ll succeed in anything he does.”

Sandberg spent four years managing for the organization whose cap he’s wearing on his plaque in Cooperstown. And in those four years, he managed several players currently wearing that same cap.

Sandberg’s first season managing in the Cubs’ system came with the Peoria Chiefs in 2007, and Darwin Barney, Welington Castillo and James Russell all played on that team. Parker played with Sandberg’s Chiefs in 2008. Barney, Castillo, Russell, Parker and Starlin Castro all played for Sandberg during the 2009 season with the Tennessee Smokies. And Barney, Parker and Jeff Samardzija played for Sandberg in 2010 at Triple-A Iowa.

Parker said he witnessed the Hall of Famer’s growth in the managerial role.

“It was a growth of learning how to be a manager and not just a player,” Parker said. “He knew the game, but just knowing how to control the team and step up when he needed to step up and be the manager that he is, that he can grow to be. I’m real excited for him.”

Sandberg took over for Charlie Manuel on Friday, and is now at the helm of a Phillies team that, at 53-67, was well out of contention for a spot in the postseason. He went on to lose his first game Friday night against the Dodgers.

But Sandberg, at his introductory press conference, emphasized changing the energy level in the Philadelphia club house and getting them to clean up their sloppy play. According to some of his former minor league players, that’s always been an emphasis for Ryno.

“In the minor leagues, he was all about running balls out and playing hard because that’s how he played,” Parker said. “It was fun, back then in the minor leagues he’d throw out some incentives. One of them was if the hitters could get to second base before the outfielder caught the pop fly. Even if you were out, you’d win something. Little hustle plays like that, that’s what he’s all about. Playing the game the right way. And I’m sure it’ll show.”

“We played the game right and didn’t make very many mistakes,” Russell said. “He kept it loose and fun. He’s a great manager. I always had fun playing for him.”

Sandberg always figured to be in line for a managerial position with the Cubs. After all, he spent three years guiding their minor leaguers. But when the Cubs picked Mike Quade as manager ahead of the 2011 season, Sandberg moved on to the Phillies’ organization, managing their Triple-A affiliate for two years before joining the major league staff this year.

Now he’s the skipper in Philadelphia, leading the team that drafted him way back in 1978. And the players from the organization he left behind have all the confidence in the world that he'll succeed.

“It’s tougher in the big leagues,” Russell said. “I think he’ll do well. He knows plenty about the game and knows how to get players ready.”

“I’m sure he’s going to do great,” Parker said. “He’s had success his whole career, whether it’s been as a player or a manager. If it takes him a while, he’ll figure it out. He’s a competitor, and he’s a professional. He’ll figure it out.”

And it won’t be long before they get a chance to see if they’re right first-hand.

The Phillies visit Wrigley Field for a three-game series starting Aug. 30. Finally, Sandberg will be managing in the park where his No. 23 waves from the right-field foul pole.

Related: Watch Sandberg doused with water coolers after he led the Tennessee Smokies to a division title in 2009 (see video).