Brotherly Love Drives Sanchez

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There are nights when Josh Sanchez hears his brother's voice.

In those dreams, Marion "Rudy" Sanchez returns home.

"I go to sleep thinking about him," Josh said. "Some nights, I go to bed crying for him. I hear him speak in dreams."

"I'll be home soon, mijo. I'm proud of you."

The dreams are an odd mixture of meditation and motivation.

"I have the same dream," Sanchez said. "I pick up the phone and he tells me he'll be home soon. I go outside but he is never there."

Marion Sanchez, 38, died in February from a drug overdose, family members said.

The memory of his brother drove Sanchez, 21, a high school dropout who was expelled from continuation school and had brushes with the law, to return to baseball.

Sanchez became one of the top shortstops in the state and became the first member of his family to earn a degree when he graduated from Oxnard College last month.

Sanchez chose a new path and was rewarded with an opportunity to play baseball at Cal State Northridge next year.

Sanchez's skin is covered with a dozen tattoos that are reminders of his past. The youngest of seven children, he looked up to his brothers, especially Rudy and Lionel.

"When we grew up, we were all crazy and busy breaking laws," said Lionel Sanchez, 37.

"We didn't want [Josh] to follow that path. We told him he could do better."

But the temptation proved too great.

"I wanted to be exactly like my brothers," Josh said. "I'm not going to lie. Kicking back with my homies and the girls, experiencing that stuff, the life, that was fun. But Rudy kept saying, 'You're the youngest, you're the strongest. You can be better.' "

Sanchez was a standout youth player, but he began cutting class at Channel Island High. He was sent to Frontier Continuation School in Camarillo, where he was expelled for fighting.

When he was 18, police arrested Sanchez on suspicion of armed robbery in south Oxnard, in which a man was struck in the head with a pistol and his watch stolen.

Sanchez was jailed and later released when police determined he was not a suspect.

While Josh floundered, Rudy was serving time in state prison. He wrote Lionel a letter urging him to push Josh back to baseball.

"I know Rudy used to cry for me," Sanchez said. "He thought I was going to end up like him."

The arrest jolted Sanchez. He returned from the police station and picked up a ball and a glove.

"I know that I have to keep doing what I'm doing now," Sanchez said, crying. "If I don't, I'll be lying down right next to Rudy. I know it."

Sanchez went to Oxnard College three summers ago and asked for a tryout with the baseball team. His tough look made Condor coaches look twice.

"I thought it was some guy on parole," assistant Buster Staniland said.

But Staniland, 66, a former minor league catcher, took Sanchez under his wing.

He took him to a summer league tournament in Santa Maria. It was the first time in years that Sanchez had played organized baseball.

Sanchez hit two home runs with a wooden bat.

"He was honest about his past," assistant Jerry Willard said. "He said he wanted to get his life together. That's what he's doing."

As a 20-year old freshman, Sanchez became the Condors' shortstop. He immediately impressed coaches with his range, making plays from behind second base and from deep in the hole.

"You hit it to him and it's [an automatic out]," Oxnard Coach Jon Larson said.

Meanwhile, Rudy continued to encourage Josh's goals of playing baseball and graduating from college.

"We did not want him wandering the streets the way we did," Lionel Sanchez said.

Sanchez made the dean's list and batted .245 as a sophomore, earning All-Western State Conference honors and impressing coaches with his defense.

Sanchez will get an opportunity at Northridge to replace shortstop J.T. Stotts, who was drafted in the third round by the Oakland Athletics.

This year began in turmoil for Sanchez. His family was displaced from their Oxnard home. His father, Joe Sanchez, became terminally ill.

In February, Rudy died after his release from prison.

Staniland took Sanchez to the funeral.

"Even as old as I am, that was heartbreaking to watch," Staniland said. "His eyes were all swollen from the emotion."

Sanchez got two hits the day his brother was buried.

After his brother's death, Lionel Sanchez gave Josh the letter Rudy wrote in prison.

It's the fear of betraying Rudy's memory that drives Sanchez.

"That's what keeps me going," Sanchez said. "I have him in my back pocket."

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