Sandberg psyched for first visit to Yankee Stadium

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NEW YORK -- Only in New York can David Wright give a radio interview while the "Naked Cowboy" hits baseballs into the Hudson River nearby.

Wright and the cowboy joined a handful other ballplayers and celebrities at one of many All-Star weekend events in New York. The million dollar challenge? Hit a baseball off a tee into a hole barely the size of, well, a baseball, atop the floating Vitamin Water bottle in the river.

Wright got his shot at winning one-tenth of his annual salary, taking four swings in black slacks, dress shoes, and a red button-up. Introducing himself as the "third basemen of the soon-to-be first place Mets," Wright sent each of his balls well wide of the target, tossing his bat down in disgust, but taking solace in outperforming Yankees pitcher Joba Chamberlain, who only got close when he threw, rather than hit, the ball.

But it was New Yorker Peter Ehrlich who had the city's best lunch break, winning a hundred dollars for hitting the bottle with his lone shot -- the rapper Fabolous, who you probably don't remember from 2001's Holla Back, also won $100. A lifelong Cubs fan, Ehrlich got a better treat when he got a picture with former Cubs second baseman Ryne Sandberg.

After Sandberg hit the inflatable bottle with one of his swings, the 10-time All-Star talked to about the NL Central-leading Cubs, his desire to coach in the majors, and whether Brett Favre should make a comeback.

SI: So what was tougher, trying to hit a baseball-sized hole off a tee or a home run off a 95 mph fastball?

Ryne Sandberg: This wasn't too tough, but I needed a little pine tar. My hands were a little slippery on the bat, but I gave a couple of them a pretty good shot. It's fun to swing the bat again.

SI: Well, you did better than one of the current All-Star, David Wright.

Sandberg: Oh yeah, how'd he do?

SI: He had some nice swings but he didn't hit the bottle.

Sandberg: OK, good. I like the ones I hit that were a little higher up close to the glove [on top of the bottle] because they had the right distance, but I imagine David Wright might have hit a couple way over the glove the way he's been hitting.

SI: The Cubs are tied for the best record in baseball. Is this the year?

Sandberg: The Cubbies are doing well. I think they have some of the best talent they've had in a long time, so this could be the year we could be celebrating in Chicago. But we'll have to wait and see. There's still half a season left so I don't want to get too overly optimistic because it's been so long.

SI: They just picked up Rich Harden. If you're the GM, are there any others moves you would make?

Sandberg: I think just the fact that they went out and got Harden kind of speaks for what the game plan is as far as trying to improve as they go. They've got a lot of pieces in place. Barring any injuries, I think they're pretty solid right now, so something would have to come up where they needed to replace somebody.

SI: What's your schedule for All-Star weekend?

Sandberg: I'm here with the Hall of Famers. We're doing a parade down Sixth Avenue tomorrow morning, then the special red carpet treatment at Yankee Stadium tomorrow night before the game. I've never been to Yankee Stadium.

SI: You played for 16 years and haven't been to Yankee Stadium?

Sandberg: Yeah, I think it's the only stadium I've never been to. I've driven by but I've never been. I've been to Fenway Park, old Tiger Stadium and a lot of old ones before they tore them down. I'm in the middle of managing the Peoria Chiefs in the Midwest League, but this was a perfect opportunity to see it.

SI: Is your team off for the break?

Sandberg: No, they've got an off day tomorrow, then I'll miss two games without them so they'll be on their own for a few games, but I couldn't turn down the chance to come to New York and be in the All-Star game.

SI: How do you like managing?

Sandberg: It's great, I'm really enjoying it. It's my second year doing it and it's something I really want to do. At this point I've really learned a lot and I'm very confident in what I'm doing and it feels good going to the ballpark every day. I'm just trying to gain as much experience I can, and if one day I can do it at the major-league level that would be great.

SI: So you're interested in getting back to the Majors?

Sandberg: I'm very interested in that. I'm just like my minor league players, doing what I can to hopefully have a chance at the major leagues some day.

SI: You went to 10 All-Star games. Do you remember your first one?

Sandberg: I do. It was in 1984 and the Cubs had a good season that year and I went to represent them and went on to win the MVP that year.

SI: What's the feeling like at your first All-Star Game?

Sandberg: First off, it's a great honor to be chosen by the fans and hopefully by your peers. It's a great game to go to, and I just remember how cool it was that the guys get together and they actually form a team for that one game. It happens so quickly on Monday and Tuesday and then having the game that night. It gave me a chance to spend time with Ozzie Smith and Dale Murphy and Mike Schmidt and guys I would play against, and become teammates for one game.

SI: You came out of retirement to play for two more years in 1996. Any advice for Brett Favre as he contemplates a comeback?

Sandberg: Well, he played a number of years and I thought when he retired that he was done, but it's hard. It's hard when you spend an offseason and the new season's creeping up. I say just wear the uniform until you don't want to do it anymore because it doesn't last forever. I retired, then came back and played at 37, 38-years old and at that point I was too old for baseball, especially playing second base. I would just suggest he wear the uniform as long as he can, but I can't see him going anywhere else but Green Bay.

SI: That would be like you leaving the Cubs.

Sandberg: Exactly.