Gary Sanchez came out swinging when the Yankees summoned him from Triple-A early last August, sending ball after ball over the wall. He soon became the team’s first catcher to be named American League Player of the Week since Thurman Munson in 1976.
Now here was Sanchez in Manhattan Tuesday night, an honoree along with former Yankees Bucky Dent and Graig Nettles, the Mets’ Wilmer Flores and the Giants’ Victor Cruz, at the 37th annual Thurman Munson Awards, benefiting the AHRC New York City Foundation and recognizing athletic accomplishment and contributions to the community.
“It’s really an honor for me to receive an award in Thurman’s name,” Sanchez said via the translation of his agent, Francis Marquez. “I know he was one of the best catchers in Yankee history, a great human being, and he was a Yankee captain.”
Perhaps Sanchez also will become one of the best catchers in Yankees history. The 24-year-old sensation certainly isn’t satisfied with his big splash after hitting .299 with 20 homers and 42 RBIs in 53 games. He said he initially agreed to play for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic in March, but he has decided to pass in order to concentrate on spring training.
“I’ve only been in the big leagues for about two months, and I know it went well,” Sanchez said. “But I still think there’s a lot I have to do preparation-wise to be able to catch for a full season for the first time (in the majors).”
Sanchez struggled last spring training and didn’t make the team. “I’ve actually always been a slow starter, so I’m not changing anything in particular,” he said. “But I am approaching this spring training with a lot of intensity. And I’m not resting on my laurels after the two months that I had last season.”
He isn’t comfortable being tagged as “The Face of the Yankees.” “I don’t think I’m ‘The Face of the Yankees,’ ’’ Sanchez said. “There are 25 faces of the Yankees who can be on the field at any given day.”
Flores said he started hitting in November after undergoing surgery on his right wrist Oct. 7. He also beat the Mets in arbitration last week and will earn $2.2 million instead of $1.8 million. “It was tough,” Flores said of Friday’s hearing. “But we felt confident about it and we won.”
The 25-year-old infielder provides a valuable righty bench bat.
“Last year was one of the hardest things I had to go through with the utility role,” Flores said. “But somehow I made it through. I made the adjustment I had to make. And this year, I’ll do the same thing.”