– Indianapolis Indians –
Tony Sanchez remembers the exact pitch that turned his season around.
Riding an 0-for-6 skid that dropped his average under .200 through 40 games, the backstop reveled in a routine flyout.
“Our first game against Columbus in Indy, I was already 0-for-2 [in Game 2 of the double header on July 10] and I was like ‘forget this; I’m putting my hands back to where they were last year,’” Sanchez said. “I get up to the plate and I have two strikes on me and I recognize the pitch early, I barrel it up and I flew out to right field.”
It was progress nonetheless for Sanchez. His ball tested the limits of Victory Field’s outfield and took Clippers right fielder Carlos Moncrief to the warning track.
“Indy is not a hitter friendly park,” Sanchez said. “But I (thought) ‘Oh my God this felt great, why didn’t I do this a long time ago?’”
His realization paid off the next time through the order. While Sanchez may have flashed his power potential with his first contact of the game, he unleashed it on the next stroke, lifting a shot that didn’t present Moncfrief a chance at tracking the big fly down.
In doing so, the Tribe’s catcher went deep with his first homer of the last 15 games.
“(Tyler Sturdevant) threw a 2-0 fastball that I had been missing a lot throughout June, and I didn’t miss it – I hit it for a home run,” Sanchez said. “[I thought] ‘there’s the adjustment that you needed to make.’ And I wish I had made it earlier in June. But, it’s better late than never”
Beginning with the homer, Sanchez rapped out hits in each of his next seven games and even doubled in three at-bats on a career high-tying 4-for-4 effort on July 11.
He then continued his tear through the end of July with 10 more extra-base hits.
The added power brought run production, and with the production came confidence.
By month’s end, Sanchez scored or drove in at least one run in 11 of his 16 games, finishing July with seven runs scored and 12 RBI.
For Sanchez, the turnaround was not only welcomed, but a necessity.
“Once you’ve hit the bottom of the barrel and you’ve been to the worst place ever; and by worst place I mean no desire to play baseball anymore, it makes feeling like I’ve been feeling in the past month or two that much better,” Sanchez said. “(The rebound) hasn’t been easy and I haven’t done it on my own. I tried to do it on my own for the first couple years; I’ve had the help of guys like (Bradenton Manager) Tom Prince and (Pirates Bench Coach) Jeff Banister…”
Plus a new face in the crowd, with an ever newer technique for the former first-round pick.
“…Bernie Holliday our mental strength coach with the Pirates,” Sanchez continued. “He’s turned me into a ‘mental warrior,’ is what I like to call myself.”
Sanchez’s emphasis on the game’s mental aspect adds an extra check mark on his previously exhaustive list of pre-practice practice. His daily regiment already had the catcher working in various sessions from the early afternoon through daily batting practice, with a schedule ranging from studying game film to countless on-field drills.
The tradeoff for his extensive work?
Matching his career-best mark and tying for second among IL backstops with his 10 homers in 70 games, and ranking behind only five league catchers with his 16 doubles.
“It feels great, I mean I just hope to continue, because the work’s never going to stop and I’m always going to have to fine-tune every aspect,” Sanchez said. “But to be where I’m at today, if you were to have told me I was going to be at this point two years ago, I would have told you that you were crazy.”