Fewer than 90 minutes before Game 1 of the World Series Wednesday night, San Francisco Giants second baseman Freddy Sanchez was on the telephone with a message for Pittsburgh and its long-suffering baseball fans:
"It's worth the wait. Believe me. It's definitely worth the wait."
This was between Giants batting practice and another trip to the trainer's room for treatment for Sanchez. Soon, he would be introduced to a national television audience tuned in for the Series opener against the Texas Rangers, not to mention the adoring fans at San Francisco's AT&T Park. A bit after that, he would be right smack in the middle of the sacred place he always dreamed of being, a World Series ball field under the brightest of his sport's lights, on this night behind Giants ace Tim Lincecum. Then, he'd be in the batter's box as the Giants' No. 2 hitter, taking his hacks against the Rangers' great Cliff Lee.
If only Sanchez had a few more minutes ...
If only he had a bit more time, he certainly would have delivered the message those long-suffering Pittsburgh baseball fans really need to hear:
"Miracles happen. Look at me. I made it. Miracles really do happen."It's an amazing story, an uplifting story. This World Series might not have the New York Yankees and the Philadelphia Phillies, but it's worth watching just to see how it turns out for Sanchez. You want to root for someone? Root for him. He has beaten incredible odds.
That goes all the way back to when Sanchez was born with a club right foot and doctors told his mother he might never walk normally. Faith, surgery and hard work can do wondrous things. Sanchez didn't just grow up and walk normally. He became a ballplayer. A big-league ballplayer!
The Pirates gave Sanchez his first really big break, and he repaid them in riches. He was a three-time All-Star between 2004-09 and won the National League batting title with a .344 average in 2006. He loved the city and the city loved him, not just because of the great things he did on the field, but because of the type of person he was off it. His charity of choice was the Miracle Field for disabled kids in Cranberry Township. Man, could he relate to those children. He donated $50,000 toward the field's construction and visited it when the Giants played in Pittsburgh in June.
There was just one problem while Sanchez was here. The Pirates' clubhouse was a place of a purgatory and still is after 18 consecutive losing seasons. "That's the one regret I have, that we didn't get it done for those fans," Sanchez said from a much different Giants clubhouse. "Pirates fans are so great, and they stand behind their team. They deserve a winner there."
That's why Sanchez wasn't thrilled when the Pirates traded him to the Giants in July 2009 for minor league pitcher Tim Alderson. At the time, he didn't know that was the best thing that ever happened to him in baseball. I'm guessing he fully realized it Wednesday night when Lincecum threw the first pitch to Rangers leadoff man Elvis Andrus and the camera flashes lit up the gorgeous ballpark on San Francisco Bay or, if you prefer, McCovey Cove.
That isn't to say it hasn't been a struggle at times for Sanchez in San Francisco. He had left knee surgery in September 2009, then had left shoulder surgery in January that kept him out of the lineup until May 19. Then, in September, he had a right rotator cuff strain that hurt so badly he hardly could throw the ball to first base. He was questionable for the postseason.
But the big games that the Giants played kept Sanchez going. "As a player, you live to be in those situations," he said. "You want to be up with everything on the line. You don't always come through, but all you can ask for is the chance." Sanchez hit .292 this season -- .330 from Aug. 1 on -- as the Giants clinched the National League West Division by beating the San Diego Padres on the final day of the regular season. He hit. .360 as they beat the Phillies in six games to win the National League Championship Series. He has also played solid defense "just trying to make all the plays" behind Lincecum and the rest of a terrific pitching staff.
"I'm hanging in there the best I can," Sanchez said of his shoulder and knee problems. "I'm giving it all I've got. I just thank God that He's held me up this far. There are only a few games to go."
The San Francisco fans appreciate Sanchez's effort. They've taken to him just as Pirates fans did. What? You can't possibly be surprised.
"It's been crazy out here, just so much fun," Sanchez said. "There's so much energy in the city. I never thought it would be like this. It's better than I imagined."
You might guess the last thing Sanchez said before he clicked off his cell phone and took his screaming body into the trainer's room for one last bit of treatment before he took center stage for the biggest baseball game of his life.
"I just hope Pittsburgh gets to experience this one day."
Ron Cook: firstname.lastname@example.org . Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.