In Peoria, Ryne Sandberg is a big fish -- make that a huge fish -- in a small pond. But he doesnt mind. "Ive never had a problem with that," explained Sandberg. "Ive been doing it since my rookie year in Chicago in 1982." Sandberg had a meteoric rise to stardom in the Major Leagues. He made his big league debut with Philadelphia in 1981 but was traded with shortstop Larry Bowa to the Cubs for infielder Ivan DeJesus in January 1982. Two years later he was the National Leagues Most Valuable Player in leading the Cubs to a division title. He played 16 years in the big leagues and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2005. Now hes back in Class A baseball. "Its good to be back in uniform and good to be back on the filed," said Sandberg whos in his first year as a minor league manager. The Cubs assigned Sandberg to Class A Peoria in December when he expressed interest in ending his baseball retirement and pursuing a managerial career. "I enjoy the teaching part of it," said Sandberg. Now Sandberg, 47, is riding buses to outposts like Appleton, Wisconsin and Burlington, Iowa. And hes doing it with rookie ballplayers half his age. "It was almost 30 years ago that I was in their shoes in Class A ball. I can relate to that." Most minor league skippers work in anonymity. But not this Hall of Famer who signs autographs at every game and is Peorias most sought-after public speaker of 2007. "I could have him speaking somewhere every day," said Chiefs General Manager Rocky Vonachen. "My phone rings constantly with civic groups requesting him, fans wanting to invite him to parties, people who named their son after him and so on." Sandberg, a native of Spokane, Wash., has only been in town for about a month but says hes enjoying central Illinois. "I like Peoria. It has a feel of Chicago for me. Its Midwest, friendly people, good baseball fans and the Peoria Chiefs. I feel settled in here."
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