Sanchez named to All-Star team
Selection marks second for NL's reigning batting champ
PITTSBURGH -- Freddy Sanchez had everything perfectly and punctually planned out.
The reservations had been made for a peaceful getaway to a resort with his wife and son. The uniform was going to be hung up, and he was eager to put away his glove for a few days and just enjoy a well-deserved midseason vacation.
After all, Sanchez didn't have much of a chance to slow down last year during the All-Star break. He was named to the National League squad last season and with the game being held at PNC Park, Sanchez admitted his nerves got the best of him, and sleep proved to be very challenging to come by.
This break was going to be different. This one was going to be relaxing.
Then, manager Jim Tracy called Sanchez in to his office before Sunday's game, ready with news that would interrupt those vacation plans. Well, actually, the interruption came courtesy of St. Louis manager Tony La Russa. Tracy just happened to be the messenger.
The Pittsburgh manager informed the Pirates second baseman that he had been invited to represent the NL in this year's All-Star Game on July 10 in San Francisco. Suffice to say, the news caught Sanchez a little bit off guard.
"[I was] very surprised," said Sanchez after the Pirates' loss on Sunday. "When Tracy called me in, I was kind of in shock. I didn't think I really had a chance. [I had] made plans and everything already."
The car ride that Sanchez had planned to make is now going to be replaced with a cross-country flight. But after the news sunk in, a trip to the Bay Area sure didn't sound like a bad second choice to Sanchez.
"It's obviously such an honor, especially when you have a Hall of Fame manager like Tony La Russa pick you to play for him, that's such an honor," Sanchez said. "That's one of the biggest honors I've ever received. Hopefully I can go there and do the best that I can do."
The 78th Major League Baseball All-Star Game will be televised nationally by FOX Sports, in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and Sportsnet HD and televised around the world by Major League Baseball International, with pregame ceremonies beginning at 8 p.m. ET. ESPN Radio will provide exclusive national radio coverage, while MLB.com will provide extensive online coverage. XM will provide satellite radio play-by-play coverage of the XM All-Star Futures Game.
After getting the chance to don an All-Star jersey in front of his home crowd last summer, Sanchez didn't have to wait long to pull that jersey over his head once again. And don't forget that Sanchez, the reigning National League batting champ, is only in his second full season in the Majors.
The nomination is an unquestionably a deserved one for Sanchez, whose .305 season average going into Sunday's game was tops on the Pittsburgh club, and trailed only Philadelphia's Chase Utley among all the league's second basemen.
However, not many would have predicted a second consecutive All-Star nod for Sanchez with the way his season started.
The second baseman missed most of the final month of Spring Training with a twisted right knee. The injury kept him out the first week of the season as well, and then it seemed to plague the infielder early on in his return.
He batted just .224 in April, struggling to find any sort of consistency and admitting that he didn't feel as comfortable at the plate as he had during his batting title run.
But when that calendar page turned, so did Sanchez's fortunes. That swing that helped make Sanchez the NL batting champion last year began to reemerge, and from there, Sanchez has been the most prolific hitter in the Pirates' lineup.
In a 54-game span, Sanchez raised his average from .218 to .305, aided by break-out months of May and June. The second baseman's 40 hits in May trailed only Houston's Carlos Lee for most base hits during the month. And Sanchez's impressive .343 June average finished at eighth best in the league.
His recent offensive outburst obviously made an impression on La Russa, but it's something his teammates have lauded all season.
"He's the king of fighting, fighting, getting a pitch to hit and hitting it, putting it in play and hitting it hard," Pirates first baseman Adam LaRoche said. "He gets a ton of base hits that way. That's why he did what he did last year, and he's doing it again this year. He doesn't give up, he doesn't over-swing a lot. He's not afraid to get fooled on a pitch and still stay in the at-bat."
Sanchez's invitation to the All-Star Game last year was aided by a Pittsburgh-driven write-in vote campaign and not to mention a .363 average through the season's first three months. This year, the 29-year-old second baseman didn't crack the top eight in votes for second basemen. However, he wasn't overlooked by La Russa, who filled the final seven spots on his roster following the fan and player votes.
"It's great for him," said teammate Zach Duke. "He's definitely one of the guys that is the heart and soul of this team. It's great to see your teammates go and represent the club."
Sanchez played five innings in last year's All-Star Game, going hitless in two at-bats. He said that a second time back to the Midsummer Classic has to be easier -- at least on the nerves.
"It'll definitely help, knowing what it is like," the second baseman said. "I went in last year kind of in awe and watching everybody. I had those shaky legs at the plate, trying to put the ball in play, and I think it will definitely be a little easier this time, though I'm sure I will be just as excited."
Sanchez will be one of three second basemen on the NL squad, joining Utley, who was elected by the fans as a starter, and Arizona's Orlando Hudson, who was voted in by the Player Ballot.
The 2003 season marked the introduction of the Player Ballot to the All-Star selection process. Each league's players, managers and coaches elect eight position players and eight pitchers from their league. Catchers and infielders who finish in the top two at their position on the Player Ballot, and outfielders among the top six, are assured of making the All-Star Team. In instances where the winners of the Player Ballot are also fan-elected starters, the player with the next highest amount of votes on the Player Ballot makes the All-Star Team. Eight pitchers -- five starters and three relievers -- become All-Stars through the Player Ballot. The manager of each World Series team from the prior season -- in this year's case, Detroit's Jim Leyland and La Russa -- then fills the remaining slots on their respective teams, ensuring that one player from all 30 clubs is named to the All-Star Game.
Sanchez's "shock" at being named to the NL squad wasn't a result of the second baseman not feeling worthy enough, but more so because he felt that he had teammates just as, if not more, deserving of the invitation. The two most notable were pitchers Ian Snell and Tom Gorzelanny, both among the top eight in the league in ERA.
Gorzelanny still has a chance to join Sanchez in San Francisco, as he is one of the Final Vote candidates that the fans will have the chance to cast votes for up until Thursday at 6 p.m. ET.
Tracy, who has been adamant about the impressive All-Star resumes of Snell and Gorzelanny all week, said that he felt La Russa's decision may have simply come down to what type of player the Cardinals manager needed to give the NL the best chance to win the meaningful game.
"It's the manager's choice," Tracy said. "I'm not putting words in Tony La Russa's mouth, but I think it makes sense from him [in] that there is limited choices that you have as the manager, and you take a guy that has really come around as of late and is hitting right around .300. He's an excellent offensive player that puts the bat on the ball, and there may be a chance when the National League needs a ball put in play, and [La Russa's] got a pretty good hitter right there to do with it."
And as for that vacation Sanchez had been looking forward to?
"I think I can change those plans," he said, smiling.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.