Mark was dancing with his wife, Annette, at a nightclub in Daytona Beach this spring when a man approached him on the dance floor and asked for his autograph. Rypien signed, simply relieved that the guy didn't want to cut in and cut the rug with him.
Earlier that evening Rypien had abandoned the sanctuary of his table for the uncertainty of the men's room. Bouncers became alarmed when they noticed countless patrons entering the John, but none exiting. What evil lurked inside there? It was Rypien, sitting on a sink signing autographs for everyone.
It's the same tune in Spokane, only in a lower key. "They see his face everywhere around here," says Tim. "So maybe people don't get as excited." Tim was an athlete at Shadle too, a catcher who made it to Triple A in the Toronto Blue Jay organization before becoming the baseball coach at North Central High a year ago. He happens to mention that his Indians play on Ryne Sandberg Field....
Ryne Sandberg is the oldest of the three, the oldest and best-known and richest of the three boys, the three boys in four years. Think of it. In the time it takes a president to break his promises, Spokane was buttoning up these three little beauties and sending them out into the world.
"In our generation in Spokane," says Jerry Cain, 28, Rypien's best buddy since junior high, "Ryne Sandberg was the first real three-sport star in high school: All-Everything in baseball, basketball and football, signed a letter of intent to play quarterback at Washington State, then got drafted by the Phillies."
"I had no ambition to go to college and study," says Sandberg, standing outside the visitors' dugout at Shea Stadium in New York City and forthrightly explaining why he did not end up as a senior quarterback at WSU while a freshman named Mark Rypien waited his turn from the bench. "When the Phillies made an offer, it made my decision easier. I wanted to get into the minor leagues young, work at the game, learn how it worked, and maybe, someday, make an appearance in the majors."
Maybe? Someday? C'mon.
"No, I never dreamed of this," says Sandberg. "Never. Not at all. I'm a lucky guy."
He plays second base like Yo-Yo Ma plays cello. He is the only man ever to win nine Gold Gloves at that position. He has the highest fielding percentage in major league history. He once played in 123 consecutive games without an error. But he still carries a trace of the boy from Spokane, the North Central shortstop who made four errors against Western Valley the day scout Bill Harper told Sandberg that Philadelphia would draft him.
He has hit 40 home runs in a season, stolen 50 bases in another, and no one else in major league history can say that. He has hit .288 for his career. He has played in nine All-Star Games. He was the leading vote-getter in '91. He has won one National League MVP award. There is growing sentiment that he is the best second baseman ever to play the game. In March '92 he signed a contract, the richest in the game's history, that will pay him $7.1 million a year for the next four seasons. But he still carries just a hint of the boy who, when told that he might get a signing bonus of $50,000, turned to his high school coach with bug eyes and said, "Oh...really?"