During the Cubs home opener on Friday, a power-hitting second baseman went 2-for-5 with a game-winning home run. Nothing new there, right? Well, except for the fact that that man was Chase Utley and the hero brought to mind by my opening line was at Wrigley in his capacity as the Philadelphia Phillies' manager.
Now, to be fair, Chase Utley is pretty awesome. Worthy of adoring fan mail from grown men, as a matter of fact:
But despite the glowing aura of Utley's magnificence, it was pretty clear that it's not, in fact, always sunny at Wrigley Field. While the cold (38 degrees) and the wind (23 MPH) contributed, it was the rain that really put a damper on things.
That's right, when the Phil's skipper stepped onto the field to make a pitching change with a 5-run lead and 2 outs in the 9th, the remaining Cubs fans in attendance turned into a flock of boo-birds. And that would have been understandable had the man been almost anyone else, had he not earlier been celebrated as he stood in that same spot with 3 fellow HOF'ers.
When your name and number are being whipped around by the same wind that kept the Cubs' bats almost as cold as their fans, there's usually a little slack. Maybe the crowd just wanted to see the game euthanized more mercifully. Maybe they were channeling their frustration with their own team. Or maybe it's because they were conflicted.
I certainly can't begrudge them the latter. Try explaining to your son why he's named after the manager for the Phillies and why he's being booed. Several people chastised the move as an knee-jerk piece of over-management, but I prefer to view it as the not-so-subtle dig by a spurned lover.
That's right: Ryne Sandberg trolled the Cubs. Hard.
It happened: Ryne Sandberg is booed at Wrigley; for making pitching change with two outs in 9th ahead 7-2.
— David Haugh (@DavidHaugh) April 4, 2014
He'll never admit to it publicly, but I think Ryno knew exactly what he was doing when he made the stroll from the visitor's dugout to the mound. And while he drew the ire of fans who probably felt ill after booing the legend, they weren't the targets of this act of defiance.
No, I believe this was a message to Epstoyer. This was the ex-girlfriend dropping 20 pounds and parading in front of you looking drop-dead gorgeous (I don't speak from experience, Sarah, it's just a literary allusion). He could have made it more obvious by facing the owner's box once he arrived at the mound, high-arming the brass and yelling, "Are you not entertained?!"
But that's not Ryno's style. He was never flashy, never drew unnecessary attention to himself. No, Sandberg let his actions speak for him. And boy, were they ever loud. And so it was that he spoke volumes on Friday afternoon by simply walking a couple hundred feet, head bowed against the bluster.
Now, the Cubs could just as easily turn around and demoralize the Phillies in the next two games, and, by doing so, relegate Ryno's move to little more than a footnote. But it seems obvious, at least to this intrepid blogger, that he was telling all of us that he wanted to be on the other side of this matchup.
I suppose that's obvious from his willingness to start from the bottom, to ride buses with kids who would never even play in as exotic a locale as Sevierville, TN. He publicly thanked Theo Epstein for his transparency when the Cubs GM publicly eliminated Sandberg from contention for the manager's role a couple years back.
But he immediately left the Cubs organization after not getting the gig in favor of the electrifying Mike Quade. I know exactly how he felt then, and probably still does now to some extent. When I was cut from my high school basketball team, I was offered the role of manager, alongside a kid we called Hog.
I loved basketball though, and to be that close to it without actually putting on the uniform was just too much for me to bear, so I turned down the offer. So too, Ryno couldn't be a part of the organization that had traded for him and for which he had won Gold Gloves, Silver Sluggers, and an MVP, knowing that he had been passed over.
It would have eaten him up. I was actually cut from the basketball team as a junior and was harboring thoughts of trying out again as a senior; I had lost the last vestiges of baby fat and had finally come into my (admittedly limited) athleticism. I mean, I was no David Haugh or anything.
Heck, the coach even commented to my dad that he wished I'd had the skills as a junior that I did as a senior (though anyone who's played with me might question his assessment). But that same Hog whose role I didn't want effectively ended my dream with a hip check as I drove around him to my left during an open gym.
My left foot planted and my body rotated, using my knee as a pivot point. I heard and felt something like Rice Krispies and then went down in a lump; the rest, as they say, is history. I never played competitively again, though I will admit to feeling some kind of perverse satisfaction when my former teammates failed to win the sectional our senior year.
That little tale of personal woe was shared with the thought that I believe Sandberg felt much the same way when he took the ball from Mario Hollands on Friday. If you can't join 'em, beat 'em. Amiright?
It's almost easier to see your heroes laid low by demons and bad decisions than to see them have success, at least when said success comes at the expense of your team. But that's where we're at with Ryne Sandberg, the man who proves that you can come home again, but also that the warm welcome for the Prodigal Son has an expiration date.
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