There are thousands of Minor Leaguers trying to make it to the Majors, and who better to show them the way than former big-league stars and journeymen? Each week, MiLB.com talks with a Major Leaguer-turned-Minor League manager or coach to get his unique take on life down on the farm.
Future Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg was drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 20th round of the 1978 draft and made his Major League debut with the Phillies on Sept. 2, 1981 as a third baseman. He was traded along with Larry Bowa to the Chicago Cubs for light-hitting shortstop Ivan DeJesus on January 27, 1982, in what is considered one of the most one-sided deals in baseball history.
Sandberg quickly established himself as a perennial All-Star and Gold Glove candidate at second base, making 10 consecutive All-Star appearances from 1984-'93 and winning an unprecedented nine consecutive NL Gold Gloves from 1983-'91. During his 1984 NL MVP season, Sandberg batted .314 with 114 runs, 36 doubles, 19 triples, 19 home runs and 84 RBIs. He was the winner of seven NL Silver Slugger Awards as the top offensive second baseman in '84-'85 and from 1988-1992. Sandberg holds a career batting average of .285 with 282 home runs and 1,061 RBIs and his .989 career fielding percentage is a Major League record at second base. Widely recognized as one of the best second baseman of all time, Sandberg was elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame in January 2005.
MinorLeagueBaseball.com: What do you remember most about your first time around in the Minor Leagues?
Ryne Sandberg: I was excited to sign my first professional baseball contract, knowing I had an opportunity to make it to the Majors. The ballparks were pretty small, and playing in front of 500 or fewer fans was not unusual.
MiLB.com: Have times changed that much? How different are the Minors from when you were a player?
RS: I think today's players are more knowledgeable about the game due to the extensive television coverage. The stadiums are much more up-to-date and have better playing surfaces than the ones I played on.
MiLB.com: Life in the Minors can be surreal. What's your favorite tale of the Minors, either as a player or on the bench?
RS: My first Spring training was in 1979 in Clearwater, Florida. I will never forget the day the Major League club came over to use one of the fields, and I watched in awe as the bus unloaded Pete Rose, Mike Schmidt, Steve Carlton and Larry Bowa.
MiLB.com: How have teammates you played with in the bigs reacted to your current gig?
RS: Some of my former teammates are involved with the game as Minor League managers, coaches and scouts. When I see them we talk about our playing days and how we can apply that to what we are doing now.
MiLB.com: Do the guys on your team know much about you and your history as a player?
RS: Well, last year at Spring Training many of the Peoria players approached me and let me know that I was their parents' favorite player.
MiLB.com: What have the players on your team taught you? Do they keep you up-to-date on pop culture?
RS: I have five kids of my own ranging from 23 to 28 years old, so they help me stay up-to-date. The players got a kick out of me wearing Vans sneakers and cargo pants to the ballpark last year.
MiLB.com: What kind of reaction do you get from fans?
RS: I had a routine last year of signing autographs for about 20 to 30 minutes before each game. The fans would line up from the dugout to the foul pole.
MiLB.com: What city or cities do you most look forward to stopping in during the season?
RS: Since we're in the Midwest League, many of the fans from the small towns are Cubs fans. Kane County, which is just outside of Chicago, was always a fun stop because we usually drew over 10,000 fans each night.
MiLB.com: What's the toughest part of the job?
RS: I have found that the toughest part of the job is having to release a player.
MiLB.com: What do you think of your bobblehead? Have you collected your baseball cards throughout the years?
RS: When my bobblehead came out, I thought it was pretty cool, but it hardly looks like me! I collected many of my heroes' rookie cards which I've had for about 25 years -- Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Ted Williams and Pete Rose. I've seen most of my own cards, but I don't have all of them.
Steve Conley is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.