Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Ryne Sandberg Day

(Thanks Blogger for bringing in the picture correctly.)
The date June 23, 1984 is memorable to many Chicago Cub fans who are of my age or older. It is on that day the nation was introduced to first-year Cub and future Hall of Famer, Ryne Sandberg.

The day before the Cardinals entered Wrigley Field for an important mid-season series. McGee, Coleman, Smith were among the notable names who were led by manager Whitey Herzog. The Cubs were proving they would be a contender for the NL East title and winning the series over their rival from the south would go a long way for the Cubs to be playing meaningful October baseball in close to forty years.

On this Friday the Cubs had a battle on their hands in game 1 of the series. And it was won on late heroics by Leon Durham with a home run that sent the Cubs to victory. But Cub fans had to temper their enthusiasm as they still had to win at least one more game to make that statement.

It was on the 23rd of June that my dad and I planned to take a bus trip into Chicago for our one game a year at Wrigley Field. It was an early departure from Cedar Rapids as game time had been changed to accomodate a national tv audience. While waiting to board the bus we were asking who the starting pitchers would be for that day's game. We found out from the local paper the Cubs would send Steve Trout to the mound, while the Cardinals would counter with unknown Ralph Citarella.

The game started out as nothing like the day before. Trout was getting knocked around early and getting the Cubs into an early deficit. Some of those who travelled with us were Cardinal fans and my dad was getting tired of hearing them "chirp," so he took a walk around the Friendly Confines. After two innings the Cubs trailed 7-1, and it seemed to be a long day.

Looking up at the manual scoreboard in center field I could tell that NBC had two blowouts as the Dodgers were beating the Braves 10-2. As the backup game, the fans at home were being treated to Bob Costas and Tony Kubek describe what appeared to be a Cardinal victory. The only excitement so far that day for Cub fans was the fight that broke out in the bleachers among fans of both teams. But as the game neared the ninth, things started to turn.

With the Cubs down by one and two outs in the ninth, Costas and Kubek has already given the player of the game to St. Louis centerfielder, Willie McGee. In the game McGee had hit for the cycle, and NBC was running into other programming. They knew the game would end soon as the Redbird closer Bruce Sutter was in to close it out, and with two outs and an unknown Ryne Sandberg coming to the plate, it would be a matter of a couple of pitches to end the game. But Sandberg faced the former Cub and sent one into the left field stands sending the game to extra innings.

In the tenth, the Cardinals fought back with two runs and the end seemed to be near again as the Cubs still had to face Sutter in the tenth and the second baseman couldn't hit two off the future Hall of Famer. But with a man on, Sandberg did the unthinkable and belted another one into the stands sending the game to the 11th.

The 11th inning would be the last one as recent recall from triple A Iowa, Dave Owen drove in the winning run and the Wrigley crowd was alive. The roar didn't seem to end, and a tv interview with Sandberg was barely audible over the Wrigley Field PA. Fans didn't want to leave as we knew we saw something special, something that would make this season memorable.

That ticket stub is something I have kept and I had the opportunity for it to be signed by Sandberg who is now the manager for triple A Iowa. It was a priviledge to be at Wrigley Field on such an historic day, with my father who had seen his amount of heartbreak from the men in blue.

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