"I'm pretty pumped, just to imagine a hockey game at Wrigley Field. Blackhawks fans are loud, so it will fun to hear what it's like at game time."
-- Ryne Sandberg
Growing up in Spokane, Wash., Cubs Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg played plenty of hockey, but typically without the ice because of Washington's relatively temperate winter climate.
"We would watch NHL games on TV and then go out to play street hockey, with sticks and tennis balls," says Sandberg. "We even marked the curbs for goals. We played for hours."
Sandberg will be part of Thursday's crowd at the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic (Jan. 1, 1 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, RDS, NHL Radio, XM Radio).
"I'm pretty pumped, just to imagine a hockey game at Wrigley Field," said Sandberg. "Blackhawks fans are loud, so it will fun to hear what it's like at game time."
Sandberg knows all about loud at Wrigley Field. He led a Cubs resurgence in the 1980s. Perhaps the most memorable and loudest moments unfolded during his 1984 MVP season. The noise was sonic-boom proportions on a June afternoon, Cardinals-Cubs, when Sandberg, already 4-for-5 with a couple doubles, tied up the game in the ninth inning with a home run off Bruce Sutter, the St. Louis closer who established his pioneering spilt-finger fastball in the same role as a Cub.
The ninth-inning noise was deafening, but the decibels went sonic in the 10th when Sandberg did the exact same thing -- homering off Sutter to yet again tie the game. Bob Costas, the host for Thursday's Winter Classic coverage on NBC, was in his first year of calling the Game of the Week with broadcast partner Tony Kubek. Costas has long credited Sandberg's heroics with putting the uber-announcer's voice into the American public's mindset.
"It was just one of those perfect days at Wrigley Field," says Sandberg. "I was a young player, just 24, my third year in the majors. I literally don't recall running around the bases after either home run. I still can't believe I even hit two balls in the air off Sutter. He was the type of pitcher than when you hit his pitches, 90 percent turned into ground balls."
Sandberg, who will be managing the Cubs Double-A affiliate this coming season, says he never missed a chance as a player to attend Blackhawks games at Chicago Stadium.
"It was a big thrill, something I felt I had to do living in Chicago or I would be missing out," says Sandberg.
The legendary Cubs second baseman says he feels the same about the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic 2009.
"I can't wait," he says. "It's good for the Blackhawks. It's good for the NHL. And it's great for Chicago."