Major trip for minor leaguers

Phillies Triple-A team, led by manager Ryne Sandberg, visits Hall of Fame

June 15, 2011
The Lehigh Valley IronPigs and their manager Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg (top far left) visited the Hall of Fame Wednesday. (Milo Stewart Jr./Hall of Fame)

COOPERTSOWN, N.Y. – Led by a member of the national pastime's most exclusive fraternity, almost two dozen Lehigh Valley IronPigs could be found roaming the corridors of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum on Wednesday afternoon, awed by their historic surroundings.

Arriving via bus from their home in Allentown, Pa., members of the Triple-A affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies spent an off-day, on their way to a game in Pawtucket, R.I., gazing at exhibits, checking out the artifacts, and overall just enjoying the experience of visiting the game's most hallowed grounds. And at the forefront was the squad's skipper, Ryne Sandberg, whose bronze image the players made sure to find in the Plaque Gallery.

"This was a generous opportunity presented by the Philadelphia Phillies, who as an organization are going to bring one of their affiliates to Cooperstown each of the next five years," a casually dressed Sandberg said midway through his visit. "So we're the first team to do that, and for me to be their guide today, with a great bunch of guys that I already like, I just felt like they'd take right to this.

"Some have been here before and really enjoyed it, but for those who hadn't I thought it would be a treat that would last a lifetime. Not only will it affect them today but probably for the rest of their lives."

Sandberg, elected to the Hall of Fame in 2005, originally drafted by the Phillies and in his first season managing the IronPigs after having spent the previous four years as a skipper in the Chicago Cubs' minor league system, said he still enjoys every opportunity he gets to visit the Museum.

"It's still mind-boggling to me to think this game has been going on for so long," Sandberg said. "For me, I like to picture back to the person who was wearing a certain glove - what was their life like, what did they do on a daily basis, what kind of work did they do in the off-season, where did they live, what were the conditions? I put myself back in history that way the best I can, trying to picture myself back then. It's all about the history for me and going back in time."

A 10-time All-Star second baseman, Sandberg won nine Gold Glove Awards and seven Silver Slugger Awards during a 16-year big league career spent mainly with the Cubs. At the time of his retirement, his 277 home runs as a second baseman were a big league record.

"I've been doing this since I was 18 years old. When I signed my name to that first professional baseball contract I became a professional baseball player," Sandberg said. "To spend all those years in the game, I have an appreciation for what this game stands for. Going into the Hall of Fame in 2005 really was a time of reflection for me that year, thinking of all the people that helped me and all the trials and tribulations that I went through to have a career.

"And now I have a feeling of wanting to help younger players and any player get to the major leagues. I know the benefits from it, not only financial but just the experience of being part of a team and being part of history in this country."

Having walked amongst the fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, and grandmothers and grandfathers who visited the Hall of Fame on Wednesday, Sandberg talked about the ability that the game of baseball has in connecting generations.

"It is a sport that you can enjoy with a simple game of catch," he said. "You can go to a baseball game and the game hasn't changed over the years. It's still the same dimensions on a baseball field. And just the fact that it's been a constant through so many years and generations.

"I think that people connecting with the game through generations has helped it become America's pastime."

Bill Francis is a library associate at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum