CHICAGO – The celebration for Wrigley Field's 100th anniversary begins with a visit from an old friend.
Ryne Sandberg brings his Philadelphia Phillies to Chicago to take on the Cubs today in the first game of the season at the iconic ballpark. It's Sandberg's second trip to his old stomping grounds since he became Philadelphia's manager last August.
"Wrigley Field's a special place to me and my career, so going back there, and to go back in this capacity, I'm very anxious and excited about that," Sandberg said.
Sandberg broke into the majors with Philadelphia in 1981, and got his first major league hit at Wrigley. It was the first of many at the Cubs' longtime home.
Sandberg was traded to Chicago that January, and went on to play 15 seasons for the Cubs. He finished his career with a .285 batting average, 282 homers and 1,061 RBIs. The second baseman had his No. 23 retired by the team in 2005, the same year he was enshrined in Cooperstown.
Nicknamed "Ryno," Sandberg remains popular among Cubs fans. After all, he was at his best in their favorite ballpark, batting .300 with 164 homers and 607 RBIs at Wrigley during his time with Chicago.
"It's the 100th year, anniversary of the stadium there, that'll be special," Sandberg said, looking forward to the second of three opening days for Philadelphia this season.
It's also a very special occasion for rookie Cubs manager Rick Renteria, who was hired in November and finally gets a chance to take a look at his office.
"I think we're all looking forward to making Wrigley Field our haven," he said.
It was a house of horrors last year, when Chicago had a National League-worst 31-50 home record. The home woes, plus a run of four straight losing seasons, also took a toll on attendance. The season total of 2,642,682 was the smallest for the Cubs since they drew 2,623,194 in 1998.
All those numbers played a role in the firing of Dale Sveum, who went 127-197 in two seasons with Chicago. The Cubs are hoping Renteria can get young hitters Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro back on track, while laying a foundation for a successful transition to the majors for the top prospects in a loaded farm system.
"We're moving in the right direction with our mentality and attitude," Renteria said. "It's a long season."
Renteria got a little taste of what it's like to manage the Cubs during their first series in Pittsburgh. They dropped each of the first two games in extra innings before holding on for a 3-2 victory Thursday afternoon, setting the stage for a home schedule that the Cubs are calling "the party of the century."
"It's a great old stadium and a real piece of history," Cubs second baseman Darwin Barney said. "I hope the Cubs can play there another 100 years."
Not everyone shares Barney's opinion of Wrigley, which is quite a different experience for the visiting team.
"I hate it," said Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon, who then rattled off a long list of complaints. "The clubhouse is small. It's a bandbox. The wind seems like it's always blowing out. It's cold. The dugout's small. There's no bullpen. You want me to keep going?"
Philadelphia also dropped two of three in its opening road series. It won 14-10 on opening day in Texas, and then managed just five runs in the last two games. Adrian Beltre had a game-ending RBI single for Texas on Tuesday, and Papelbon blew his first save opportunity in a 4-3 loss Wednesday.
Roberto Hernandez makes his first NL start for Philadelphia in the opener against the Cubs. The right-hander, who began his career in Cleveland and pitched for Tampa Bay last season, signed a 1-year, $4.5 million contract in the offseason.
Hernandez will be opposed by Travis Wood, who made the All-Star team for the first time last year.
"It's always good to play at home," Cubs catcher Welington Castillo said. "We just can't wait to get to Wrigley."