Bill Hass on the ACC: Sanchez 'A Dynamic Part' of Success for Boston College Baseball
April 10, 2009
By Bill Hass
GREENSBORO, N.C. - Tony Sanchez has gotten used to the Northeast snow, but he's still not quite used to hitting home runs in bunches.
Sanchez took a long route, in miles, to play ACC baseball. A native of Miami, he wound up at the league's most northern school, Boston College. The junior catcher has anchored the Eagles' lineup this season and helped them to a 20-11 overall record and 7-6 mark in the ACC as they began a weekend series at Wake Forest.
He leads the ACC with 12 home runs, six of which have come in league play. He finds his total almost shocking.
"I don't know," he said by way of explanation. "I always tell myself when I'm up there to look for my one pitch - you're going to get your pitch once an at-bat - and I try to do the most with that pitch as I can.
"I'm not thinking about hitting home runs all the time, I'm just trying to stay quiet, get up the middle and sometimes I just get some bounce on the ball and that happens by accident.
"I'm more surprised than anybody. I never thought of myself as a power guy; more of a line-drive doubles guy. It's been a nice surprise. I'll keep the same mindset and see what happens."
Sanchez is doing more than hitting homers. He is batting .381, has driven in 35 runs and has scored 36 times. And he handles himself, and his pitchers, quite well behind the plate.
Eagles coach Mik Aoki said Sanchez may have been overlooked the last couple of years because of such prominent catchers in the ACC as Matt Wieters of Georgia Tech, Buster Posey of Florida State and Tim Federowicz of North Carolina. All were high draft picks who are now playing pro baseball.
"He's had just an amazing year to this point," Aoki said. "It's best described by me just by saying when he makes an out, we're all surprised (especially when there's a chance to drive in a run). It's probably unfair to him that our expectations are that high, but he's done it so many times for us.
"The other big thing is that, defensively, he makes so much of a difference. He's such a good receiver and blocker and thrower, it's really limited teams from coming in here and trying to get their running game going against us. He's a really dynamic part of who we are."
This season represents a pronounced change for BC, which finds itself in contention for one of the eight berths in next month's ACC Championship. In their first three years in the ACC, the Eagles missed the tournament, compiling a combined league record of 30-59.
Aoki reminds his team that there's still half of the conference season to play, but the enthusiasm is evident.
"The difference this year is our mindset as a team," Sanchez said. "We know we've got good players and we're finally catching up to the talent of the teams at the top. Now we have that confidence that we can win against teams like that. We have ACC talent throughout the lineup and throughout the dugout."
The Eagles have hit well all year. Besides Sanchez, four other players are over .300 - Robbie Anston at .397, Mickey Wiswall at .336, Mike Sudol at .316 and Barry Butera at .314.
"Most of the games we are doing everything right," Sanchez said. "Pitching comes up big for us, hitting scores runs, our defense holds base runners off the base paths. Anytime you do those three things you're going to win ball games."
So how did Sanchez come to leave his south Florida roots for a school in the Northeast? Basically, he said, it's because schools in his home state didn't show much interest in him.
Aoki pointed out there are so many good baseball players in Florida that out-of-state schools have success recruiting there. The Eagles have two other Floridians - Anston, who's from Odessa, and pitcher Matt Brazis from Tampa. Often, there are opportunities to play right away rather than sitting behind established players at schools in the state.
Sanchez was recruited by former Eagles coach Pete Hughes, who's now at Virginia Tech. Aoki served as his pitching coach for three seasons.
"I wanted to play in the ACC, I wanted to be an impact guy right from the beginning," Sanchez said. "Other teams weren't calling and when BC called, they were pretty much my first offer and my first chance to go to college.
"Once I talked to coach Hughes, I said why not? He sounded sincere when he said that I was going to come in and be the guy right from the beginning."
Upon arrival at Chestnut Hill, Sanchez discovered two things. One was the extreme difference in the weather, from the near-100 degree, high humidity of Miami to the cold and snow of Boston.
"My first winter, the first day of snow I was like a little kid again," he said. "It was my second time seeing snow in my whole life. It was awesome. Then the snow kind of got old, it got brown and mushy, so I got over it.
"Playing in the weather up here is the hardest part because it's so cold and it gets windy sometimes. The catchers don't like to wear long sleeves so we're in short sleeves no matter what the weather. But give me a couple of weeks in any weather and I'll get used to it, I'll be all right."
The second thing Sanchez learned was how to get into shape. He described himself as "an OK catcher with a bad body" in high school who never worked out because he didn't feel it was a big part of his game. He weighed around 248 when he got to college; now he checks in at 212, with numerous benefits.
"Once I got to BC, I learned a lot about nutrition and working out and flexibility and all that it can do for you and make you a better ball player," he said. "Once I flipped the switch with that it turned my game around and I became a much better ball player.
"I used to be terrible base runner and now I'm just a below average base runner. I'm beating out double play balls, I'm beating out infield hits, I love it. They've got to actually make a play on me now. It helps with my range behind the plate, the flexibility and what I can do back there."
Sanchez established himself with his hard work in fall practice of his first year. He played in 50 games as a freshman, starting 38 as a catcher, and hit .318 with one homer and 28 RBIs. As a sophomore he hit .313 with nine homers and 45 RBIs, all team highs.
This year he has continued to increase his production, twice being named ACC player of the week. Last week he hit five home runs, including one on a 3-and-2 pitch that beat NC State.
"A big key to what he's doing is trying to pick a good pitch," Aoki said. "I think if there was a knock on him in the past, you could get him to get himself out by throwing pitches outside the strike zone.
"This year, he's done a really good job of showing better plate discipline and that has played a big role in the fact that he's been able to get some better pitches to hit. Pitchers have had to come into the strike zone a little bit more against him. To a certain extent, he's been helped by the fact that as a team overall, we're better. There's more personnel around him that makes the opposing team pay a steeper price for pitching around him than in the past."
Sanchez said he has matured mentally as well as physically, focused more on doing whatever he can to help the Eagles win. Making the ACC Championship, he said, would be a huge step forward for the program.
"That would be awesome for us, we would be so happy to play in it," he said. "But we don't want to just get there, we want to do well there and accomplish our next goal, which is getting into the NCAA tournament.
"We've got to stay within ourselves and keep the same approach no matter who we're facing. We do a real good job of being high energy on the weekends, coming out locked in and focused. As long as we do that every game, we'll be fine at the end of the season.
However the season plays out, Sanchez will play a major role in keeping the Eagles going in the right direction.
"He's a really high-energy kid who really, genuinely enjoys going out there and playing," Aoki said. "It doesn't matter if he's playing in an intra-squad game where there aren't any fans or we're playing in front of 5,000 at Florida State. His motor is going all the time; so from that standpoint, he's very much a leader."
Bill Hass is a long-time observer of ACC sports. His career at the Greensboro News & Record spanned 36 years, from 1969 until his retirement in March, 2006. He is now writing "Bill Hass on the ACC" for theACC.com. His weekly columns will keep fans plugged in to the Atlantic Coast Conference.
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