In 2007 Ryne Sandberg, two years removed from his election to the Hall of Fame, took the job as manager of the Cubs low-A Midwest League team in Peoria, Illinois. He had actually interviewed for the Cubs job (which eventually went to Lou Piniella), but was told he needed some experience and the Cubs gave him the chance in Peoria.
My neck of the woods in SW Michigan is more than two hours from any big league team. But within 90 minutes of me are four different Midwest League teams---South Bend, Fort Wayne, West Michigan (Grand Rapids) and Lansing. I've been to games at all four parks.
Knowing that Sandberg would be in my neck of the woods with the Chiefs, I decided that I would try to seem his team and get his autograph. My first attempt was on July 4 in South Bend. I picked a bad day to get an autograph....the game was a sellout. Ryno was very good about signing, and before the game he was stationed by the Chief's dugout, but the line to get to him was huge...I had no chance.
My next try was at Grand Rapids on Monday, July 30. A Monday night game was not going to be too crowded, so that was going to be in my favor. Knowing that he signs each game, I also decided to get there as soon as the gates opened and then head toward the dugout to get in line ASAP.
I took WW Jr. with me. He was armed with a Midwest League baseball he had gotten the year before a Michigan Devil Rays game (the franchise was based in Battle Creek, but has since moved to the Saginaw area). I brought this book...
....an autobiography that Ryne wrote in 1995, after his first retirement.
We got to the park early, before 6:00 when the gates were supposed to be opened for the 7:00 game. There was just a short wait before fans were let into the park. We went to out seats, which were in the fifth row behind the Chief's dugout. Once settled, we headed towards the dugout, where lines had formed on each side. We had to guess which side Ryne would be signing from...and we guessed right!
After about a 30 minute wait, he came over and started signing. WW Jr handed him his ball and Ryne signed it...
I then handed him my book, opened to the cover page, and again....
he signed for me! We both thanked him and moved back to our seats. We had gotten what we came for, but there was still a game to be played. It turns out that there was another connection to my collection at the game, but I never realized it until last weekend.
That story comes tomorrow.