BRADENTON — It’s great to be Tony Sanchez.
This from the man himself.
It’s not a cocky, arrogant don’t-you-wish-you-were-me thing. Rather, it’s an ain’t-it-a-blast, how-lucky-am-I approach Sanchez employs whenever he takes the field as a Bradenton Marauder.
“This is the best life you can ask for,” the catcher said prior to Friday’s game against the Fort Myers Miracle.
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If Sanchez is buckling under the pressure that comes with being a first-round draft pick, he isn’t showing it. He batted over .300 in 48 games after the Pittsburgh Pirates picked him fourth overall last June and homered in his first spring-training at-bat in March.
Sanchez’s switch to high Single-A has been seamless, as he entered Friday leading the Florida State League in on-base percentage (.491) and tied for third in RBIs (13) and ninth in hitting (.341).
Is Sanchez having so much fun because he’s playing so well? Or is he playing so well because he is having fun?
“It’s always fun when you’re producing. The hard part is still trying to have fun and keep a clear mind when you aren’t,” he said. “I’ll hit those valleys, and I’ll still try to be myself. And that’s how you eliminate those long stretches of 0-fers and stuff. As long as you’re having fun, and not thinking too much — all that draft hype, that stuff is overrated.”
Sanchez didn’t always think like this. Growing up in Miami, a hotbed for high school baseball, Sanchez bristled a bit whenever he didn’t see his name listed among the nation’s top prospects.
Then one day he realized none of that stuff mattered.
“It helped to me to just say, ‘Whatever. Forget it,’” Sanchez said. “You’re not going to impress everybody. So you just play your own game and somebody’s going to like you. Thank God Boston College did.”
After a banner career with the Eagles — Sanchez was one of three finalists for the Johnny Bench Award, handed to the nation’s top collegiate catcher, as a senior — the Pirates made him the highest baseball draft pick in school history.
“It kind of helped I wasn’t a highly rated guy out of high school,” he said. “I just learned to go about my business and get my work done.”
He got a taste of major-league life when he spent the early part of spring training with the Pirates, trolling a clubhouse with the pros and learning all he could, including when it’s the right time to sign autographs.
He even homered in his first spring at-bat against the Baltimore Orioles and threw out a runner trying to steal second.
“It was a lot of fun to watch,” Pirates manager John Russell said.
Sanchez was so excited that night he didn’t bother to check the schedule for the following day and reported late for batting practice.
“Don Long (the Pirates hitting coach) wore me out a little bit, and then he let it slide. I told him it would never happen again,” he said. “Stuff like that, you learn from it.”
And that’s what he’s doing every day. That, and having fun. As long as he is, Sanchez isn’t too worried about what will happen next.
“If you’re just playing your game, you’re going to get to where you want to be, he said.
“I have no control over whether I move up in a month or two months, or if I’m an All-Star in the Florida State League. None of that matters to me. I’m just going go out and play my game, and if the Pirates want to move me up, they’ll move me up. That’s kind of what’s helped me have fun and be myself, and it’s what helping me have success on the field.”