The signs of what made Ryne Sandberg a Hall of Fame baseball player were everywhere in his first training camp as a major league manager.
He had the coaching staff spray blue spots on each of the bases so players would know exactly where their foot should hit the bag. Hit it on the outside and you lose precious milliseconds. Hit it on the inside and it might mean the difference between safe and out.
Defensive drills were stressed daily and not just to cut down on errors. Catchers throwing out baserunners, pitchers switching up looks to keep runners off balance. Outfielders hitting the proper cutoff man.
The little things. Mastering the little things is how Ryne Sandberg went from a throw-in in the 1982 deal that shipped him and his new bench coach, Larry Bowa, from the Phillies to the Cubs, all the way to the Hall of Fame as one of the best second basemen in history.
In his first camp as manager, Sandberg did it his way, but the roots of his thinking can be found in his 1995 autobiography, "Second to Home." The second chapter is titled, "I did it my way." Now he's imparting his way to his new team.
Kevin Frandsen, who played for former manager Charlie Manuel, as well as Sandberg in both Philadelphia and with the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, welcomed the emphasis on fundamentals.
"Watching games last year and being part of games last year, some of the fundamental things that we were terrible at lost us games, or cost us a couple runs later on in the game," said Frandsen, who was released late in spring training only to latch on with the Washington Nationals. "I was accepting of it. I like it just because I've always thought the little things do always make the biggest things in the end of the game. The teams that win every year always do the little things right."
Sandberg will be compared to Manuel, who guided the Phillies to five straight National League East titles and a World Series championship in 2008, but he doesn't seem to care.
"Charlie Manuel's the most successful manager in Phillies history," Sandberg said. "He won a World Series championship and [had] numerous postseason appearances. Nothing else has to be said about what Charlie Manuel did in a Phillies uniform as a manager. I have my style and I have my way of doing things. It's not about comparison. I was given a job, I have to do a job and I know how to do it my way."
He talks about how players have to be themselves and go with their strengths, in his autobiography. He was never outspoken as a player. In fact, he was so quiet that many wondered how he would do in a leadership role.
"The important thing is to go with what works for you, and being reserved was what worked for me," wrote Sandberg. "Over the years, I saw guys do things that weren't natural for them, and they lost track of what they were supposed to do on the field."
Not many people are picking the Phillies to win the division this year. Not many are picking them to even contend. So when your talent doesn't match up to others, what do you do? You go back to fundamentals, just as Sandberg did as a player.
"That's something I like to stress," Sandberg said early in camp. "I know the importance of fundamentals. We're going to stress them and we're going to do them daily…. We will do them throughout the season. It's really creating a routine so the players will adapt to it and get used to it."
Defensively, the focus on fundamentals seemed to pay off in spring training. The Phillies were among the leaders in fewest errors committed, going 10 games without an error at one point.
Sandberg also has made it clear that he will run the clubhouse differently than Manuel, who was known as a player's manager. There were grumblings last season about clubhouse issues, especially as the team fell out of contention. Earlier this spring, Sandberg seemed to send a message when he benched shortstop Jimmy Rollins for three games and praised his replacement.
Sandberg, despite being 16 years younger than Manuel, may be even more old school. Again, a hint from his autobiography on his retirement decision: "In the end I was caught between two generations: The one I came up with, which still cared about the game; and the one I left behind, which hardly cared at all … There's a lack of respect today for the game and for each other. When I was a young player, we respected the veterans and were intimidated by them. As a veteran, I didn't feel that the young players had that same respect for the older guys or the game in general."
Sandberg had a head start implementing what he wanted after taking over for Manuel in August. The Phillies went 20-22 over the last 42 games for Sandberg after starting the season 53-67. It was the second time in Sandberg's managerial career that his team didn't finish above .500. The other was in 2008 with the Peoria Chiefs, who finished the year 60-78 in the Class A Midwest League.
Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard, who has spent all but his first year in the big leagues under Manuel, noted one change that was noticed by the veterans.
"The workload is a lot more now than I think it was in the past," said Howard. "It's just a different workload than it used to be."
Howard also mentioned how players are showing up early, which was one of the first changes Sandberg made last season — a strict report-to-work time.
Under Manuel there wasn't a set reporting time; players just had to be on the field ready to go when stretching began. Sandberg was quick to clarify the way things were done in the past weren't wrong, he just has a different way of doing things.
Ever since he was named manager of the Cubs' Class A team in Peoria in 2007, it was assumed it wouldn't be long before Sandberg would work his way up to the major leagues as a manager.
Most just thought it would be with Chicago.
Sandberg weaved his way through the minors, moving from the Chiefs to the Double-A Tennessee Smokies and, by his fourth season as a manager, was with the Triple-A Iowa Cubs, where he would wind up being named Triple-A Pacific Coast League manager of the year in 2010.
When Lou Piniella retired as manager of the parent club toward the end of the 2010 season, instead of turning to Sandberg, Chicago went with Mike Quade. Quade finished out the season with the interim label before receiving the job outright after the season.
That's when Sandberg decided to go in a different direction, returning to the organization that drafted him in 1978 — the Philadelphia Phillies. After spending two seasons in charge of the IronPigs, Sandberg was promoted to third base coach in Philadelphia in 2013, before taking over when Manuel was fired.
The interim label came off Sept. 22 before the final home game last year and now Sandberg is beginning his first full season as a major league manager.
It certainly won't be easy.
With the IronPigs, Sandberg put runners in motion on the basepaths more than any other manager has done with Lehigh Valley. Expect more of the same during Sandberg's tenure in Philadelphia, with a team that was in the bottom half of the league last year in stolen bases with 73.
"I like to make things happen," Sandberg said. "I like to utilize the talents of the players and I like to sometimes push the envelope on the offensive side as far as making the defense make a play. We've hit and ran numerous times this spring and we've got some stolen bases, things like that. If the right guys are in the right spots, I like to go for some action."
Under Manuel, shaking up the lineup was almost unheard of, even if guys were struggling. For example, Howard hasn't hit outside the fourth spot, when he's in the lineup, since 2008.
It doesn't sound like that streak will continue with Sandberg at the helm, if Howard struggles.
Sandberg said he'll review the lineup every day and put the players in the best position to help win that day's game. He'll take different factors into account, such as the player's statistics against the opposing starting pitcher, if a player is slumping or hot and whether a shakeup is necessary to turn things around.
Even though Sandberg said he does not like to platoon players, a lot of the regulars could see more rest than they're accustomed to, which may not be a bad thing for an aging roster such as the Phillies.'
"As far as giving guys days off and resting the veteran players on a day and in certain situations, I think that's important throughout a long baseball season," Sandberg said. "I do like to utilize the whole 25-man roster. I think that works well with everybody. It keeps the bench guys sharp. It does give a veteran guy occasional rest."
Sandberg certainly isn't resting. He's approaching his new job much like he did his entire professional career, methodically, with a purpose. No matter how the Phillies fare this season, one thing is certain: Ryne Sandberg will do it his way.