Chicago Cubs legend Ryne Sandberg is currently the manager of the teams single A affiliate, the Peoria Chiefs. In this exclusive interview with Chiefs owner Pete Vonachen, we discuss what Rynoâ€™s been up to lately and what he brings to the managerial table.
By Paul M. Banks
I caught up to Vonachen at the opening of Little Cubs Field in Freeport, Il. In addition to being a partial owner of the team, Vonachen is a member of the Greater Peoria sports Hall of Fame and the Peoria Chiefsâ€™ old stadium was named after him. Its safe to say he has a fair amount of â€œjuiceâ€ within the city of Peoria and the Cubs organization, so I was eager to his opinions on what the future holds for one of my favorite ballplayers growing up. I also love his â€œin my dayâ€¦we didnâ€™t have thisâ€¦.we had to goâ€¦.â€response to my final question.Â Â
PMB: Tell me about Ryne Sandberg and what heâ€™s brought to your franchise…
PV: Last year he brought us record attendance. The fact that he was the manager, heâ€™s such a great guy, interacted with the fans so good, he gave everyone a new outlook, a different impression of what a hall of famer really is. He signed all kinds of autographs, was willing to go out and make speeches. I think he did so much for baseball and so much for the image of the Chicago Cubs. Win-win situation all around.
PMB: So it especially helps being so close to the parent clubâ€¦
PV: When youâ€™re in Peoria you either have the Cardinals or the Cubs. As far as our affiliate is concerned, we feel the Cubs are better from an attendance standpoint. Thereâ€™s a lot of Cardinal fans, but I think thereâ€™s more Cub fans. I go to our ballpark every night and I see all kinds of Cardinal shirts and caps. Theyâ€™re good baseball fans. Thatâ€™s what itâ€™s all about.â€
PMB: How much potential does Ryno have to manage in the big leagues?
PV: He certainly knows the game, has the respect of the players. Heâ€™s doing a very very intelligent thing, willing to come down and start in A ball. Heâ€™s willing to come back a second year in A ball. He just needs experience; he learns every day. I think if anybodyâ€™s got a chance, they should be lookin at guys like Ryne Sandberg. All they do, it seems to me, is they recycle these old managers. They need some new people. Just because they havenâ€™t managed in the big leagues, doesnâ€™t mean they couldnâ€™t be a success.
PMB: Whatâ€™s his leadership style? Is he fiery like the current Cubs skipper Lou Piniella or laid back and chill the last Cubs manager Dusty Baker?
PV: Heâ€™s laid back. Heâ€™s been in the big leagues 14 years and only got thrown out once. Our season is a month old; he got thrown out twice and got suspended already.
PMB: What did he get suspended for?
PV: He got suspended for a day for bumping the umpire. He fights for the kids. Heâ€™s going to be ok. Like anything else, you got to learn.
PV: We didnâ€™t even have little league. We used to go and get a taped up bat and ball and go to the park and choose up sides. We didnâ€™t have anything like a little league at all. No organized baseball.â€
Vonachen was a VIP guest at the opening of Little Cubs Field. Here he is cutting the ceremonial ribbon