Selasa, 26 April 2011

Sanchez returns to Pittsburgh a world champion

Giants' second baseman: 'This is what we as players strive for'

Monday, April 25, 2011
By Dejan Kovacevic, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Former Pirates All-Star Freddy Sanchez won a World Series title last fall with the Giants.

Minutes after the San Francisco Giants won the World Series in the fall, the champagne was spraying about the clubhouse, and a Fox Sports reporter approached Freddy Sanchez with a question he had fielded many times in previous months but now came with fresh meaning: Could you ever have imagined this when you were playing in Pittsburgh?

Sanchez's answer might have surprised the national television audience, but likely not those who followed his career with the Pirates.

"I loved my time in Pittsburgh," he spoke unflinchingly into the microphone that night. "I've got nothing but good memories."

Ask Sanchez now, and he will acknowledge he was ready for the question.

"People sometimes try to pin me down on that," he said by phone from San Francisco the other day. "But I'd never say anything bad about Pittsburgh because I'd never think it. People here say to me all the time, 'Oh, you had to have been glad to get out of there. It had to be terrible.' The way the Pirates and the fans treated me ... I had a great experience there."

With one exception.

"My only regret was that we couldn't win. That's still a regret."


Tomorrow night, Sanchez will take the field at PNC Park with the Giants as a champion, having gone worst-to-first in barely more than a year. That might have another player pounding his chest, but Sanchez still speaks of his 2009 trade with a pained tone, still speaks of Pittsburgh with palpable affection, and yes, still expresses regret about not having contributed more to the Pirates than three All-Star selections and a National League batting crown.

Which is to say, that shiny new ring clearly has not tarnished him in the slightest.

"I made Pittsburgh my home," Sanchez said. "It was a great place to play, a great sports town. I wanted to be there. I wanted to be part of that team that turned it around. With all the tradition that's already there, I wanted to be part of the new tradition, to start with having a winning season and eventually getting to this point."

By that, he meant the Giants' championship, the franchise's first in San Francisco, a five-game victory against the Texas Rangers.

"It was just the best feeling," Sanchez said, going back to that Nov. 1 night in Arlington, Texas. "This is what we as players strive for, to win a World Series, to win a ring. I'll have that for the rest of my life. It's been a long road for me. With everything that I've gone through ... wow, I couldn't have imagined I'd be a World Series champion."

So, he couldn't imagine that in Pittsburgh?

"Not in 2010. Honestly, I couldn't have imagined it would happen this soon, but I did think about it. I did believe that things could get better with the Pirates. I still feel they'll get better. It's a good, young team."

Sanchez, 32, was born with a club right foot and pigeon-toed left foot, but he learned how to walk, then run, before excelling at baseball. And, to hear him tell it, he had to overcome quite a bit in another sense when the Pirates traded him to the Giants July 29, 2009, for pitching prospect Tim Alderson, now in Class AA Altoona's bullpen after a large step backward last summer.

"When I got traded over here, it was one of my hardest days in baseball," Sanchez said. "I felt like I left home. I was missing Pittsburgh and, on top of that, I was hurt. It was probably one of the most miserable seasons I've ever had, mentally, emotionally, physically ... everything."

Knee and shoulder troubles that kept him out of San Francisco's lineup for all but a few games down the stretch. The Giants missed the playoffs, and some San Francisco fans tore into management for acquiring damaged goods.

"That might have been the hardest part," Sanchez said. "If I was hurt with the Pirates, people there still knew what I could do, what I'd done. No one knew that in San Francisco. They brought me here to help them go to the playoffs, and I couldn't do it."

Sanchez recalled communicating with Jack Wilson, his best friend and the double-play partner the Pirates traded that same day, "every day for a long while there." Sanchez and Wilson had approached Pirates general manager Neal Huntington about signing extensions together two weeks before the trade. Huntington made one offer, labeled it take-it-or-leave-it, and both soon were traded without further dialogue.

"Between that and the injuries, it took a toll on me and Alissa and my family," Sanchez said, referring to his wife. "I would take it home with me. And the two of us, we were questioning every day why this happened, why I got traded, why this, why that. We were happy in Pittsburgh. My wife and I are firm believers that things happen for a reason, but this was tough."

It would brighten considerably before long.

A slow recovery from right shoulder surgery kept Sanchez out of San Francisco's lineup for the first 38 games of 2010, but he healed enough to help the Giants win the National League West Division, then added 16 hits in the playoffs. That included a brilliant Game 1 of the World Series in which he doubled in his first three at-bats and added a single.

The shoulder still hindered him.

"Really, I wasn't at my best. I pretty much just did what I could. In playoffs and the World Series, there were days I couldn't go out and take batting practice. I wanted to save the strength I had in the shoulder for the game."

A couple days after the final out, Sanchez and the Giants were paraded through the hills of San Francisco, with an estimated crowd of 1.5 million cheering, crying and tossing black-and-orange confetti from the skyscrapers. As with other players, Sanchez and his family were transported by a series of cable cars.

"It was just a sea of people, something they said was even bigger than what they used to do for the 49ers here," Sanchez said. "Having Alissa and the boys with me on the cable car ... unreal. And even now, I still have fans coming up to me, wherever we go, just saying, 'Thank you for what you did for the city of San Francisco.'"

Currently, Sanchez is batting .289 with 16 of his 24 hits going for extra bases. He attributed that good start partly to another shoulder surgery after the World Series to remove two sutures from the previous one. They had failed to dissolve and were rubbing his labrum with each arm rotation.

"That's made a huge difference. I'm doing what I want to do now, first time in a long time."

He sounds no less satisfied about life off the field, three weeks after signing a contract extension through 2012 that will pay him $6 million annually. That is $1 million more annually than the Pirates' extension offer in 2009.

"San Francisco's been great for us," Sanchez said. "I don't know that it will ever be the same anywhere other than Pittsburgh, but we feel like we've found another home here. They've embraced me here. It's been great. And I'll tell you this: I've come a long way since I was traded over."

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