He already pitched for the Angels. As an 8-year-old.
He already appeared at Angel Stadium. As a football player.
He already scripted his Angels debut. As a fan.
“That would be an absolute dream come true,” Patrick Sandoval said. “I look over at first and there’s my boy [Albert] Pujols. That’d be crazy.”
Baseball’s trade deadline is all about teams trying to find fits. Every now and then, the fits found are perfect.
The Angels dealt Gold Glove catcher Martin Maldonado to Houston last week for Sandoval, a 21-year-old left-hander who grew up in Orange County and starred at Mission Viejo High.
Sandoval made his first start for his new organization Sunday. He struck out nine batters and gave up no runs in 4 2/3 innings with Class-A Inland Empire against San Jose.
He couldn’t have been much more steady, which was notable for someone who, when he was told he’d been traded to the Angels, began shaking.
“Just really excited,” Sandoval explained. “All of this seems unreal.”
That’s certainly how it felt to his mother, Robin, who, when she heard the news, thought her son had to be joking. From the other end of the line, Patrick was pretty sure she was fighting back tears.
But soon enough there Robin was, just before midnight on the day of the trade, picking him up at the Ontario airport, driving him home for a few hours of sleep and then shuttling him back out to Inland Empire to catch the team bus departing at 8 a.m. for San Jose.
“We had two car rides worth of conversation,” Robin said, “a couple hugs and back on the road.”
A mother dropping off her son so he could go play baseball, the most quaint of parental exercises and one by which this family, thanks to the trade, continues to mark time.
Though the Dodgers were the ones Sandoval rooted for more as a kid, nearly every game he attended came at Angel Stadium.
Clayton Kershaw remains someone he loves to watch, Sandoval admitting he tries to channel Kershaw’s hard mentality, the aggression he shows in attacking hitters.
Yet, Sandoval never wavered on the subject of his favorite player, even if he’s still not certain why he was drawn to a power-hitting first baseman who, at the time, was playing in St. Louis.
When he was assigned a book report in third grade, Sandoval chose a Pujols biography. He so wanted to be like Pujols that, in Little League, he copied his batting stance.
“Wide legs,” Sandoval said. “Big arms. The hands moving moving up and down. Just crushing balls, you know? I was dug in. I was in deep.”
With three years remaining on Pujols’ contract after this season, the possibility exists that Sandoval could eventually be teammates with a player he once envisioned facing only as a fantasy.
Then again, there could be more than just a cold baseball business decision guiding the direction of this story.
After the trade, Sandoval’s thank-you to the Astros on social media included a picture of him, in full windup and preparing to unleash a fastball, in an Angels uniform.
OK, so he was only 8 when the photo was taken, and it was just coincidence that his team ended up with that name.
But that also was the first year Sandoval tried pitching, the skill that with 13 years of refinement would bring him so much closer to wearing genuine Angels red.
He also shares a compelling distinction with the members of the most fondly remembered team in franchise history. Sandoval, too, celebrated a championship at Angel Stadium.
He was a receiver and punter on Mission Viejo’s CIF-winning football team in 2014, Sandoval’s leg credited with continually pinning deep Vista Murrieta’s offense.
“It really is unbelievable,” Robin said. “To think that he’s maybe going to have a chance to play there in the major leagues is pretty amazing.”
Since her son signed with the Astros in 2015, Robin has been able to watch him play only twice. That will change now, starting Saturday, when Sandoval is scheduled to make his first home start for Inland Empire.
He nearly played at USC before Houston unexpectedly lured him away with a $900,000 signing bonus, an enormous commitment for an 11th-round pick.
Sandoval already had purchased a laptop for school and was set on exploring his affinity for the Trojans, an attraction that dated to attending USC football games when he was young.
But all of Sandoval’s plans abruptly changed with one significant decision by the Astros, not unlike what happened again last week.
Instead of being in Potomac, Md., for a Carolina League doubleheader, he was suddenly on a plane bound for home and two long car rides with his mother before a six-hour-plus bus trip into a brightening future.