The journey has been a long one for Freddy Sanchez.
From toiling countless hours as a youth on the baseball fields of Burbank, to competing for three junior colleges — including a year at Glendale Community College — to years of making his way through the minor leagues to nine seasons in the majors, Sanchez has definitely paid his dues.
As a wide-eyed youth with dreams of someday playing in a World Series, Sanchez never gave up on his lofty goal. Even early last season, when he remained stuck in the Siberia of Major League Baseball — Pittsburgh — he never gave up hope.
In a shining example of hard work and persistence paying off, the Burbank High graduate is living out his dream by playing in the 106th World Series as a member of the San Francisco Giants.
Entering today's Game 3 against the Texas Rangers, the Giants have a 2-0 series lead.
"As a player, this is what your dream is; it's what your goal is," said Sanchez, 32. "To get to the World Series, to be a part of it and for it to really happen is something special. It really brings out the kid in you."
Sanchez admits acting out various World Series scenarios and creating his own heroics knocking around ball fields with his friends as a youngster. And when the World Series rolled around every fall, Sanchez would find himself glued to the television set, taking it all in.
"I remember being at home and watching the Kirk Gibson home run (in the 1988 World Series between the Dodgers and the Athletics)," said Sanchez, who grew up a Dodgers fan. "That was such a big memory for me, and now to be a part of that history in the World Series is pretty unbelievable."
His hopes of ever playing in a World Series were dealt a huge blow when he was traded from the Boston Red Sox to the Pirates in 2003. The Pirates suffered through their record 18th-straight losing season this year.
When he was sent to a possible contender in San Francisco in 2009, Sanchez wasn't sure if his new team was going to be the right fit for him. However, after falling in love with the city, melding with a group of players he said is "the best group of guys I've ever player with" and overcoming injuries, Sanchez counted his blessings.
"I loved every minute of my time in Pittsburgh…I had great memories there and great things happened for me there," said Sanchez, a career .289 hitter in nine seasons. "When I got traded it was tough. It was tough on me and it was tough on my family. When I came to the Giants I was hurt, so it was tough and it was frustrating for me for a few reasons. Early on in San Francisco there were days when I would think 'What am I doing here?' I didn't understand why I was traded, and I came over here to try and make it to the playoffs and I can't even play."
"But I'm a firm believer in things happen for a reason, and I came over for a reason, and I couldn't be happier. This is really a place that I have come to love. I feel blessed in every way you can imagine."
From time to time, Sanchez said he allows himself to drift back to the days when baseball became a focal point of his life. But long before he earned Foothill League Player of the Year honors at Burbank in 1996, or before he won the Western State Conference Southern Division Player of the Year award at Glendale college, or before capturing the National League batting championship in 2006, the three-time All-Star put in the time and effort to improve as a player.
But the sweat and toil put into becoming a better athlete was less about his aspirations of becoming a big-time player and more about his love for the game. Growing up in a house literally feet from the Burbank High baseball field, that patch of dirt and grass became his hardball sanctuary, as well as his second home.
"My wife and I talk about it all the time," said Sanchez, who is married to his wife, Alissa, his high-school sweetheart from Burbank. "From where we came from to where we are now is just amazing. I can remember spending weekends at Burbank High, taking countless numbers of ground balls or going anywhere I could, to the tennis courts, trying to get some swings with a tennis ball."
The couple also endured the rigors of the minor leagues when Sanchez was a member of the Red Sox organization.
"We have had a lot of people who have helped us along the way," Sanchez said. "I wouldn't be where I am now without the support of our friends and family, who have given us so much support over the years."
With more World Series games to come — and his place in San Francisco fairly cemented — Sanchez's journey is far from over,
"It's been a great ride," he said.
And through all that he has endured, the journey has definitely been a magical one for Sanchez.