Folks, I’m not sure if you are aware of today’s date, Aug. 18, but it is one of our most celebrated, revered baseball player’s birthday. I’m not talking about Atlanta Braves great Bruce Benedict, nor am I talking about 1987 Golden Glove-winning Cardinal Mike LaValliere; I’m not even talking about the late, great Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente, one of the greatest players of all time, though it’s possible that this legend was inspired by Clemente’s example. No, folks. I’m talking about one of the greatest sluggers ever to grace the diamond, despite barely being tall enough to hit inside the batter’s box. This pint-size powerhouse could “steal bases like Lou Brock, catch fly balls like Willie Mays, and hit homers like Reggie Jackson,” and his stats were so maxed out, they probably should’ve instituted surprise drug tests to the Backyard Baseball League. I’m speaking, of course, of the great Pablo Sanchez.
Just to get you amped up to recap a legend, let’s hear a little of his infectious theme song. I guarantee you’ll hum it all day:
Pablo “The Secret Weapon” Sanchez joined the league in 1997. He was a small, unassuming, Hispanic kid who wore his baseball cap backward and spoke no English. He was shorter and pudgier than all the other kids; hell, his T-shirt barely even covered his stomach. He brought to mind recollections of Babe Ruth, but not the “Sultan of Swat” Babe Ruth–he was more like the “Sweat While He Ate” Babe Ruth. But the scouts said Sanchez’s skills were off the charts, and you can’t really argue with 10 baseballs for hitting AND fielding, and a nine for running, the speedy little bastard.
He was even a halfway decent pitcher…take THAT, Tony Delvecchio, you smug prick.
Managers all over the league lost their minds and he was crowned the Backyard Baseball League MVP year after year after year. He could even hang with the pros when kid versions of them joined the league in ’01 and ’03. How many teams did you see fielded featuring A-Rod, Jeter, Alfonso Soriano, Chipper Jones, Nomar Garciaparra, AND Pablo Sanchez? Kid was one of the greats, though maybe you could attribute some of his skill to his stint with Barry Bonds, Jose Canseco, and Jason Giambi back in ’03, though rumors of his “juicing” were unsubstantiated.
Unsurprisingly, Sanchez was a very skilled multi-sport athlete, lending his talents to soccer and hockey in addition to baseball. He was even able to keep up with the likes of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and T-Mac on the basketball court, despite being shorter than Muggsy Bogues.
When the Backyard Baseball League closed its doors after parent company Humongous Entertainment shut down, Sanchez fell into a deep depression. Despite offers from a number of Major League clubs, including the New York Yankees, which sought Sanchez multiple times as a backup, and, eventually, a replacement for embattled third baseman and former teammate Alex Rodriguez, Sanchez fled from the public eye and disappeared for a number of years. Stories about Sanchez popped up every now and again, including the revelation that he learned Spanish in school and was fluent in English through the entirety of his storied career. But where is he now?
I eventually tracked down Mr. Sanchez, which was an odyssey in itself. He is now a hitting coach for the New Hampshire Fisher Cats minor league baseball team, the AA affiliate for the Toronto Blue Jays. Despite bowing out of the public eye in the prime of his career, he still had an unquenchable thirst for baseball. Sitting down for a beer in a dive bar just outside of Manchester, N.H., I only had one question for the legend: “Why leave the money, the fame, and the Major League behind?”
He answered in an unintelligible blur of 100 mph Spanish, none of which I could understand. After asking him to slow down multiple times, I gave up, paid the tab, and left. Maybe he just wasn’t ready for primetime. No matter what the reason, one thing was clear: the man never lost his love for baseball.
Happy birthday, Pablo Sanchez.