Freddy Sanchez humbled to be honored by Glendale college HOF

When Freddy Sanchez was chosen in the 30th round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft in 1996 shortly after graduating from Burbank High, he thought he would be faced with a decision: sign with the organization or go the college route.

“Really, the [Atlanta] Braves made the decision for me,” said Sanchez, who was drafted after earning Foothill League Player of the Year honors in 1996. “They told be they were going to do a draft-and-watch. So I didn’t even have the choice of being signed.”

With no major colleges showing interest, Sanchez chose to play at the community college level. Although Glendale Community College was nearest to the sure-handed infielder, he picked Los Angeles Valley College. However, a turn of events ultimately led him to play for the Vaqueros.

“I was all set to play at Valley College and that’s where I was headed,” he said. “But I played for a travel team under coach [Denny] Barrett. Then he got the job at Glendale college and I wanted to play for him, so that’s where I went.”

While at Glendale from 1997-98, Sanchez had a .407 average and was named Western State Conference Southern Division co-Most Valuable Player in 1998. He also led the Vaqueros to a share of the conference championship.

That set the stage for a wildly successful career in baseball for the now 37-year-old Sanchez.

He would go on to earn All-American honors in college and enjoy a 10-year major league career that included a National League batting championship with the Pittsburgh Pirates, two World Series rings in 2010 and 2012 with the San Francisco Giants and three All-Star appearances.

Sanchez will make his return to Glendale college when he will be inducted into the Glendale College Athletic Hall of Fame on Sunday. He will be enshrined along with Tammy Panich, Victor Trujillo, Joe Puglia, Brian Beauchemin and the 1977 football team at the 14th annual event.

“It’s a real honor to be inducted into the hall of fame at a place like Glendale college,” said Sanchez, who has also been honored in hall of fames at Burbank High and Oklahoma City University. “They have had a great share of talented athletes come through there over the years. It’s the junior college closest to where I grew up, so that makes it very special.

“Any time you can be honored in a hall of fame it is so humbling. I just appreciate the recognition and I’m thankful that playing there helped me to achieve the success I had in baseball.”

Barrett said when Sanchez made the decision to come to Glendale college, he knew he could build a program around Sanchez.

“Freddy was just one of those players who could turn a program around,” Barrett said. “Glendale wasn’t that good before Freddy came to our program my first year and it was his play and his influence on other players that helped us turn things around. He was that kind of guy.

“He had just such a passion for the game and he wanted it so badly.”

After leaving Glendale college, Sanchez moved on to Dallas Baptist University and Oklahoma City University, where he earned All-American honors. He was drafted a second time in 2000, taken in the 11th round by the Boston Red Sox, and he signed with the organization.

What followed was a professional career that lasted a decade, playing for the Red Sox, Pirates and Giants. His finest season came in 2006 in Pittsburgh when he finished the season with a .345 average and took home the National League batting championship. Sanchez had 200 hits on the year and led the National League with 53 doubles.

In 2009, Sanchez was traded to the Giants and the infielder played a pivotal role in helping San Francisco win its first World Series championship since 1954 when it accomplished the feat in 2010. Sanchez also received a World Series ring when the Giants won the title in 2012, though he was injured for the entire season.

Unfortunately, injuries plagued Sanchez throughout much of his career, eventually leading to its end. His last game was on June 10, 2011, when he separated his shoulder going after a ground ball behind second base. He was on the disabled list to start the 2012 season before back surgery ended his year.

“I really didn’t go out on my own terms,” Sanchez said. “That’s tough.”

Sanchez said he was ready to try a comeback in the middle of the 2013 season with the Giants until he received a sign that it was time to retire from baseball for good.

“It was all planned that after the Fourth of July weekend that year I was headed to the Giants facility to work out for them,” Sanchez said. “My buddy asked me to come and play in a dodge ball tournament with him. I kid you not, I was playing in the dodge ball tournament and I dislocate my shoulder again. This happens be just a few days before I’m supposed to be at the Giants facility on Monday so I can make my comeback.

“I’m literally in the ER on the weekend and I look at my wife and I tell her ‘OK, someone from up above is telling me that I’m done.’ That was when I officially retired, right there.”

Sanchez ended his career with a .297 average, 1,012 hits, 215 doubles, 48 home runs and 371 runs batted in.

His accomplishments in baseball are extraordinary taking into consideration that Sanchez was born with a club right foot. Following surgery at a young age Sanchez’ parents were told their son would have to go through life with a limp and he would likely never be able to run.

“Overcoming what he did shows you what kind of person Freddy Sanchez is,” Barrett said. “With him being born with a club foot, to not being the strongest in academics to coming from a family with not a lot of money, Freddy could have taken a left turn and just given up on baseball. But he stuck with it and he was able to become successful.

“That’s what makes him a special person.”

As a result of his untimely departure from the game he loves, there is one lingering effect for Sanchez.

“It’s been a few years since I watched baseball,” Sanchez said. “I really don’t watch baseball at all. ... It’s a weird situation for me and it’s tough for me to watch it. I think that’s because injuries forced me out of the game and I really didn’t get to go out on my own terms.

“But I have no regrets. I played the game as hard as I could and I gave everything I had when I played. But I think things happen for a reason and there was a reason why I wasn’t able to play any more.”

These days, the only baseball Sanchez takes part in is coaching and playing with his two sons, Evan, 10, and Ryan, 7. He lives in Chandler, Ariz. with his children and wife Alissa, his high school sweetheart from Burbank High.

“I am just being the dad right now and helping my kids and my wife as much as I can,” Sanchez said. “I am blessed to have a great family and I’m really enjoying being with them right now...I’m enjoying life.”