Pittsburgh Pirates catcher Tony Sanchez was drafted with the fourth overall pick in the 2009 draft. He made his major league debut with the Pirates on June 23 after having a breakout season in Class AAA Indianapolis, where he hit .288 with 10 home runs in drove in 42 runs in only 76 games.
Sanchez has quickly become a fan favorite because of his willingness to interact with fans and his pure candidness on social media outlets like Twitter. In fact, there might not be a better major leaguer to follow on Twitter than @Tony26Montana if you are looking for a blend of major league insight and humor.
Sanchez was recently gracious enough to spend 15 minutes with me discussing a variety of topics from major league life to teammates and expectations for the remainder of the season.
Justin Dunio: Explain how you felt the first time you were introduced as "Pirates catcher, Tony Sanchez."
Tony Sanchez: It's honestly indescribable. There's nothing like realizing that 15 years of hard work has finally paid off. I understand that I still have a lot to learn, and there is much more to accomplish, but no one can ever take that first game away from me. Seeing my face on the jumbotron as they announced the defensive positions gave me the chills.
JD: When did you realize that a professional baseball career was a real possibility?
TS: Not until after my freshman year of college. I went into BC (Boston College) extremely overweight and out of shape but still managed to play extremely well all season as a freshman. One day a scout came up to me and asked me how much I weighed. Of course I lied and took off about 15-20 pounds, but he still asked me if I was going to work on that for him. That was kind of the point where I realized professional baseball could be a possibility if I got myself into shape.
JD: Did you have a player or multiple players that you idolized growing up?
TS: I've always loved Pudge (Ivan Rodriguez) and Benito Santiago. I try to mimic the way I set up back there the way they did. I learned a lot as a young catcher watching those guys. Growing up in Miami, I watched a lot of UM games and to this day Greg Lovelady is my favorite catcher.
JD: Favorite perk of being a major leaguer over a minor leaguer?
TS: Chartered flights, meal money, salary, stadiums, exposure, respect. Take your pick. It's impossible to nail it down to just one perk.
JD: Most memorable moment as a major leaguer so far?
TS: My career is still young, but I would say nothing made me happier than catching (Brandon) Cumpton in my debut and shutting out the Cardinals.
JD: You were drafted fourth overall by the Pirates in 2009. How did you feel about being drafted by a team that was amidst their 17th consecutive losing season?
TS: That really had no effect on how happy I was to get drafted. I don't even think the streak crossed my mind at the time.
JD: What makes Russell Martin such a good mentor?
TS: The guy is just one of the best. He takes as much pride in his defensive abilities as (Michael) McKenry and I do and is willing to help us in any way possible. He's been extremely open to help the both of us. I'll ask him things all the time during games and whether he's catching or I'm catching I'll get an answer.
JD: You make yourself very accessible to fans and this has made you a fan favorite. What drives you to interact with fans as well as you do?
TS: My mentor in college once told me to give everyone a reason to like you. I enjoy making people happy and if interacting with them on Twitter or at the ballpark while signing autographs does that, then that's the least I can do.
JD: You've become Francisco Liriano's personal catcher at times. How have you and Liriano developed such great chemistry?
TS: I've only done so well with him because I've watched him and Russell work together. Learned what he likes to throw in certain counts and what he likes to put guys away with. I'll continue to take that same learning path with every one of our pitchers.
JD: The 1979 World Series winning Pirates had great team chemistry. The 2013 Pirates appear to have similar magic. Can you describe what chemistry does for a clubhouse, if anything?
TS: Good chemistry makes the grind of a long season much more enjoyable. Everyone pulling for one another, all 25 guys with one goal in mind, having each others backs. That's a dangerous recipe for success. So it's hard to narrow it down to just one. Everyone brings something to the table.
JD: The Pirates went from worst in 2012 to first in 2013 at throwing out base stealers - a 20 percent improvement. How did the club make such a drastic transformation?
TS: We just put a huge emphasis on controlling the running game and having our pitchers give us a chance to throw guys out. They bought into it and it's obviously been a huge part of our success.
JD: Pirates pitching has been among the best in the majors all season. How significant of a role does pitching coach Ray Searage play in the pitching staff's success?
TS: Extremely significant. Not only has he played a major role in the success of everyone on that staff, buts he's also made the transition from Indy to Pittsburgh for me as smooth as possible. Whether it's making sure we're all prepared for each game or just reassuring us how good of a job we're doing, Ray has been a very important guy in that clubhouse.
JD: Was breaking the streak of losing seasons something that was discussed a lot in the clubhouse this year?
TS: It was on everyone's mind, but we're not settling for just that 82nd win. We want the division.
(Justin Dunio resides in Altoona.)