10 February 2011

Countdown to Scottsdale #7: Freddy Sanchez, 2B

I sing the song of Freddy Sanchez, who fought his way through injury and ineffectiveness to have a standout 2/3rds of a season and a solid October for the eventual World Series Champions. After beginning the season on the DL following a pair of surgeries on his barking knee, Freddy made his 2010 debut for the Giants exactly 10 days before Buster Posey. The Orange and Black promptly lost five games in a row, including a brutal 3-game sweep in Oakland at the hands of the San José Athletics. Freddy hit a measly .211 over that stretch. But I'm happy to report the season got better — for Freddy as well as the Giants. Less than a month later, he was working on a cool .340 BA and an errorless streak that would stretch deep into the season, and the Giants were on their way to the most torturous championship in sports history.

The saga that's plagued Freddy Sanchez since the days leading up to his trade to the Giants in the weird and wicked Summer of '09 is not unlike a Shakespearean tragicomedy. It began with the grumblings about his knee. Over eight and a half years in the bigs, Freddy had never spent an extended amount of time out of commission, steering clear of everything this side of a hang nail. But as the trade deadline loomed, grumblings began to surface about the phantom injury holding him back in the field. No matter how persistent the rumors, it looked like the deal might not get done, despite the Giants' gaping vacancy at the 4-spot.

But a couple days later, after a series of tests and tweaks and trials, the Giants' doctors declared him fit for trade, and Freddy made a long, emotional walk from one clubhouse to the other at AT&T Park. In a flash of a few minutes, he left behind the only franchise he'd ever known, and the break was hard to reconcile. You just don't see professional athletes tear up very often unless they're writhing in pain or thanking their mom during a postgame interview. The fact that Freddy did under this circumstance speaks to his sense of loyalty and his respect for a Pirates team that was loyal to him despite posting losing records year after year after year. It speaks to his character.

It took a lot of character to fight through the roller coaster ride of surgery and doubt and more surgery and obfuscation and a little "Why the hell did we trade away Tim Alderson, anyway? Wasn't he supposed to be the future?" and a healthy dose of the Gary Radnich special: "Who IS this guy, and why should I care?" It takes the kind of character you need to overcome a childhood like Freddy Sanchez had. Once you hear this guy's story, it's hard not to care. It's hard not to root for him, to marvel at him, with all his imperfections, a Major League ballplayer champion.

When Freddy flew into second base with his third double in Game 1 of the World Series, I was on my feet to salute him before he could brush the dirt off his uniform. I don't know how many of the 43,000-plus in the house that night knew that this man with the funky moles and ill-fitting baggy uniform was born with a club foot. I don't know if it matters, either. No matter what kinda water has flowed under his bridge in the past, this guy is just plain fun to watch. He plays the game with the passion it takes to be truly good at this level. He's the first to admit he won't win any style points doing it, but I don't care if you're sexy. I don't even care if you look good. I only care if you win. And so should you.

Thanks, Freddy.

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