To this day, that is about as long as a Sandberg sound bite gets. He was ALL-Everything in high school, All-Everything but All-Interview, and he still has nothing outrageous to say when he has anything to say at all. And when did that become a character flaw? "Most writers, for the first five or six years of his career, couldn't accept that Ryne is that way," says his mother, who now lives in Brewster, Wash., about 135 miles from Spokane. "I am proud that he has been a very good role model for the rest of the country. He lives an exemplary and moral life. People looked for skeletons in his closet, but they couldn't find any."
No skeletons, but still they've prospected for fragments of bone. Yes, he posed for a promotional poster with Rypien two years ago in the letter jackets of their respective high schools. But hasn't he declined repeated invitations to be honored at the annual Spokane Writers and Broadcasters dinner? Sure, he returns to Spokane at least once a year. But doesn't he make his off-season home, with his wife and two children, in Phoenix? What are the superstar's responsibilities to the city that nurtured him? What are they, and where do they end?
"A couple of sportswriters in town have insinuated that Ryne forgot where he came from," says Sandberg's high school baseball coach, Kenny Eilmes. "But you know, us common people can't realize the pressure he is under. We only see the gravy side of it. We don't see that Ryne Sand-berg got where he is by beginning at baseball's lowest possible classification, in Helena, Montana."
All of the zeroes at the end of Sand-berg's contract were bound to stick to him like concentric rings on a target. But Eilmes is right. The boy worked at baseball as surely as the father worked at the mortuary, as surely as the mother worked as a nurse, as surely as the parents worked for glove money for this boy they named after a ballplayer.
Sandy Sandberg died in 1987. But he lived to see his son become a star. He would sometimes sit right there, in fact, and watch Ryne on WGN. Sandy Sandberg would sometimes sit right there and watch his son on that first TV above the bar at Jack & Dan's Tavern....
John Stockton used to play in the driveway like the post office used to deliver the mail. "In rain and snow," says his father, Jack. "Day and night."
"I remember driving by his house in high school," says Rypien. "Ten, 11 o'clock at night, and he was out on the driveway, dribbling a basketball."
He would play all afternoon, then meet his dad at Jack & Dan's. At dinnertime Dad would pedal John home on the handlebars of his bike. Bob Cousy was Jack's favorite player—"and my wife's, too"—but on the driveway John was always Gus Williams of the SuperSonics, driving a concrete lane at the Seattle Coliseum. His hands and feet were huge, but so were the frail kid's illusions. One night, when Seattle played the Jazz in an exhibition at the Spokane Coliseum, John got to be a ball-boy for the Sonics. That, obviously, was as close as the kid was ever going to get to the NBA.
Even now, when people talk about Spokane high school basketball, they usually talk about another point guard and his dream senior season: the year Rypien was named MVP of the state championship in the Seattle Coliseum, when he set a tournament record for assists. In the final Shadle beat a team from the affluent Seattle suburb of Mercer Island, beat them on a still-disputed, last-second shot with a fouled-out Rypien on the bench. Shadle needed a police escort to get out of the building when the home crowd nearly rioted. Mercer had a championship trophy made. Mercer's coach counted the game as one of his 1,000 wins. "They still cry about it every year," says Rypien. "They can cry all they want. It's etched in stone that we're the state champions that year."
"It's been proven," says Jack Stockton, who sounds vaguely convincing. "Shadle won it fair and square."