Cord Sandberg starts rally in Bradenton debut with Phillies organization

Sandberg ignites 6-run rally in Bradenton debut as pro

jlembo@bradenton.comJune 28, 2013 

BRADENTON -- Earlier this month, Kelsie Sandberg received a text message around 6:30 a.m.

It was from her son, Cord.

It read: "Off to work."

Or in Cord's case, off to his first workout as a member of the Philadelphia Phillies, who drafted Sandberg with the 89th overall pick during this year's amateur baseball draft.

"I cried a little at that one," Kelsie said.

On Thursday afternoon, Sandberg was back to work again. This time, however, he was at Pirate City, back in town for the first time as a professional baseball player.

"This is a blessing," Kelsie said, sitting in the stands and gripping a black umbrella in an attempt to keep cool. "I can't even express it."

Kelsie wasn't the only of Cord's supporters who made their way to Willie Stargell Field, where Sandberg's Gulf Coast League Phillies scored a 6-3 win over the GCL Pirates. Roughly 40 fans, a large crowd for a GCL game, parked themselves in the bleachers or on benches, or simply stood and watched through a chain-link fence.

Cord provided some thrills. His bunt single triggered a six-run rally in the fourth before his glove supplied the play of the day during the bottom of the seventh. Playing center field, Sandberg sprinted to his right, dived and robbed Luis Urena of a sure extra-base hit.

And it happened with two outs and the bases loaded.

"I saw it off the bat, and you're going after it fast as you can," said Sandberg, who went 1-for-3 with two strikeouts to put his average at .300. "It's a blur; you've just got to make a play."

Dwayne Strong envisioned this scenario when

he took over Manatee's baseball program in 2007.

"When he was in eighth grade, I told him, 'You're going to be a first-rounder,'" Strong said while sitting behind home plate Thursday. "I didn't know much about his football (skills), but I knew he loved football. But I also knew he loved baseball, too."

Baseball showcases in Minnesota and Syracuse helped make a believer out of Sandberg, Strong said.

"He came back from those and said, 'I can play with those guys,'" Strong said.

Sandberg, of course, wasn't a slouch on the football field, either. He led Manatee to a state title in 2011 and 39 wins in three seasons. One of the most coveted players in the nation, Sandberg signed with Mississippi State before agreeing to play ball with the Phillies.

"It's great to see a young man working at what he loves," Steve Peebles, Manatee's offensive line coach, said while watching Thursday's game. "Baseball is his true love. It was his father's, too."

Sandberg was a center fielder on Manatee's 2011 team that reached the Class 5A baseball state final four, and Bryan Voelkl, one of nearly a dozen of Sandberg's former teammates in attendance Thursday, was Manatee's catcher.

"It's pretty neat, but it's kind of weird, too. Two years ago, I was playing with him," Voelkl said. "But it's pretty exciting to see him out there."

Voelkl has been playing baseball with Sandberg and Cord's older brother, Chase, since he was 9, and remembers Cord being the runt of the bunch. He now stands at 6-foot-3 and weights 215 pounds.

"I don't know how that happened," Voelkl said. "But he's as humble as all can be. Before the draft, whenever you talked to him about it, he was like, 'I don't care; I just want to get picked.' He wasn't all, 'I'm going to be a first-round draft pick' and everything."

Strong agreed, and noted it was special that Sandberg hit his first pro home run Tuesday, the same day another Manatee grad-turned-pro, Correlle Prime, hit his first one with the Colorado Rockies' Rookie League team in Grand Junction.

"It's tough to look up to athletes these days because you never what you're going to get," Strong said. "But these guys are good kids."

Understandably, the Sandbergs have become Phillies fans. Kelsie is looking for a Phillies flag to plant in the garden, while Cord's dad, Chuck, has a Phillies license plate on the front of his truck.

"It goes well with the truck," Chase said.

And on Thursday, one of Bradenton's favorite baseball players got a chance to play at home.

"This," Kelsie said, "is just amazing."

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