(AP) – 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 on Friday 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.
"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 Thursday.
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."
His team got off to a rough start with two extra-inning losses in Pittsburgh, including a 5-hour, 55-minute marathon Wednesday night, but Chicago bounced back to beat the Pirates 3-2 on Thursday. Offseason acquisition Emilio Bonifacio had two hits and scored twice, and he’s started his Cubs career 11 for 16 (.688).
Castro, though, is off to a 1-for-13 start and Rizzo is 2 for 13 with a homer.
Both will get their first look at Roberto Hernandez, the former Fausto Carmona who will be making his Phillies debut. He went 6-13 with a 4.89 ERA for Tampa Bay last year after spending his first seven seasons with Cleveland.
The Cubs counter with All-Star Travis Wood, who went 9-12 last year but was sixth in the NL with a .222 opponent batting average and ranked 12th with a 3.11 ERA. The fifth-year left-hander doesn’t have a decision in three career starts against the Phillies but has held them to a .177 average while posting a 2.11 ERA.
Ryan Howard is hitless in six at-bats against Wood but has started strong, going 4 for 13 with a homer and a double. Chase Utley and Marlon Byrd went 5 for 13 (.385) in a season-opening series at Texas, but Philadelphia lost a pair of one-run games after winning the opener 14-10.