Ryne Sandberg, who has done almost everything in his three major league seasons except win a World Series ring, says he finally feels like a veteran.
"I started feeling that last year, and that's just a fact of having a couple of years under my belt," the Chicago Cubs' second baseman and National League Most Valuable Player said. "I'm no longer a rookie or a second-year player, and they don't have a name for a third-year player."
Sandberg returned to his home town recently for the first time since leading the Cubs to the National League East title. After the season the 25-year-old father of two had in 1984, he says it's time to play baseball again.
"I'm ready to get back to it," he said. "I've had a lot of time to get away from it. When March comes around, it's just that time of year to get going again."
Sandberg graduated in 1978 from Spokane's North Central High School, where he was a three-sport star and a high school All-American in football. On his recent visit, he attended "Ryne Sandberg Day" at North Central, where the athletic field was renamed for him.
"One good thing was seeing my high school friends," he said. "I haven't really gotten to be with them since I left, and it's been seven years."
Sandberg was signed out of high school by the Philadelphia Phillies, scrubbing plans to attend Washington State on a football scholarship. He was traded to the Cubs along with shortstop Larry Bowa in early 1982.
Sandberg's parents now live in Brewster in Central Washington, while Ryne and his wife, Cindy, and their two young children live in Tempe, Ariz. Sandberg's older brother, Del, is baseball coach at Capital High in Olympia.
In only his third major league season, and just his second year at his position, Sandberg started in the All-Star game, won his second consecutive Gold Glove and gained widespread respect.
Consistency was Sandberg's strong point last year. He hit .314, fourth best in the league. He had 200 hits, 36 doubles, 19 home runs, 84 runs batted in and 32 stolen bases. He led the league in triples (19) and runs scored (114).
If 1984 was surprising, 1985 looks promising.
"I think that I've got a lot more going for me going into the season this year," Sandberg said. "I have more confidence and I now have kind of a style to go by, a way of thinking when I hit."
Having re-signed their three free-agent starting pitchers--Cy Young winner Rick Sutcliffe, Dennis Eckersley and Steve Trout--the Cubs are intact going into spring training and should be favored to win the pennant, Sandberg said.
"It can definitely be done, I mean we almost did it last year and we were supposed to finish fifth or sixth," he said. "Anybody can win it and things have to look good for us because of the team that we have.
"I can't think of any weaknesses we have right now. That's a good sign going into spring training, because if you do have to make some adjustments, you make them, but I don't see us making many.
"We're going to have the same lineup, the same good, strong offense, good pitching. Just the fact that we're going to have all these guys at the start of spring training will definitely help us."