Sanchez 'always thinking about Pittsburgh'
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Freddy Sanchez, one of the Pirates' most accomplished players of the past decade, will return to PNC Park tonight as a member of the San Francisco Giants, first time since being traded last summer.
He will do so with memories of being a three-time All-Star, the National League's 2006 batting champion, the second baseman with the seventh-highest fielding percentage in Major League Baseball in that span, and a vibrant member of Pittsburgh's charitable community.
But one memory of an event, one that took no more than a minute, stands out for him.
"The introduction before the All-Star Game," Sanchez recalled Wednesday in a phone interview from San Francisco. "In all honesty, it's something I think about all the time, the highlight of my career."
Game: Pirates vs. San Francisco Giants, 7:05 p.m., PNC Park.
TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).
Season series: Giants, 2-1.
Pitching: LHP Zach Duke (3-5, 5.09) vs. LHP Jonathan Sanchez (3-4, 2.90).
Key matchup: In an April 14 meeting in San Francisco, Sanchez pitched eight scoreless innings and struck out a career-high 11.
Of note: No starter has won for the Pirates since May 18, when Duke beat Roy Halladay in Philadelphia, this despite the rotation having a 1.73 ERA in the past four games.
That was the All-Star classic in Pittsburgh, of course, when the overflow crowd fairly shook the place with a chant of "Fred-dy! Fred-dy!" as Sanchez joined his All-Star teammates along the third base line. It might have been the loudest ovation for any member of the Pirates since the move out of Three Rivers Stadium.
"And it wasn't just that," Sanchez continued. "They cheered me on all year to get that batting title, even though the team wasn't doing that well. I'm always thinking about Pittsburgh, with so many memories from there. The way the fans treated me was just awesome, and I can't wait to be back there and play in that stadium again."
Such sentiments are commonly expressed by athletes, but those close to Sanchez know that his cut to the core: When traded, he told friends that he was devastated, in part because of his loyalty to the franchise and city. When he returned to Western Pennsylvania to accept a humanitarian honor over the winter, he recalled being deeply emotional as the taxi took him through the Fort Pitt Tunnel.
And, for this trip, he is bringing his full family, wife Alissa and two young sons, Evan and Ryan, in part because he wants the children to experience the city.
"It's going to be different, though, and I know that," Sanchez said. "It's going to be weird taking a cab to the ballpark instead of driving into the players' lot. It's going to be weird going to the other clubhouse, too, and seeing the guys I know over there in Pirates uniforms."
At the same time, Sanchez expressed appreciation for his current situation, playing for a contender for the first time: The Giants are 28-24 and 3 1/2 games back in the West Division, and they are blessed with perhaps the best pitching in the league.
Moreover, Sanchez is simply glad to be back on the field, having had his season debut delayed to May 19 after offseason shoulder surgery. Through his first four games, he is batting a familiar .327, including multiple-hit outputs in four of his past seven games.
"Just to be back on the field is nice," Sanchez said. "When you're hurt, things just don't feel right, and you have a whole lot of bad thoughts going through your head. It feels good to be out there, and it feels good to be part of the team. We have a tough division, a tight race."
And of being in contention?
"It's fun, having a chance to try to win this division and make it to the playoffs."
Sanchez continues to monitor the Pirates from afar, that being evident by his unsolicited mention of Pittsburgh's new second baseman.
"Seeing Neil Walker hit that home run the other night, what a great moment that must have been for the whole city," Sanchez said. "And I can tell you that it couldn't have happened to a better kid than Neil."
Sanchez was traded for Class AA pitching prospect Tim Alderson, who is 4-2 with a 4.42 ERA in 11 starts for Altoona. He started slowly after a near-total overhaul of his delivery in the offseason, with his fastball down to 85 mph. But two strong starts last week -- one earned run over 13 innings -- earned him Eastern League pitcher of the week, and he made another Thursday night in New Britain, Conn., by allowing one run over six innings.
First Published June 4, 2010 12:00 am