Legendary Yankees broadcaster John Sterling called him “The Sanchize,” while fans in the Bronx and beyond simply consider him the future.
In less than a month, Yankees rookie catcher Gary Sanchez has taken over the baseball universe, getting off to one of the hottest starts in MLB history and re-energizing a fan base without much to cheer about recently. A Sanch-sation? Oh, you better believe it.
“Honestly, I came to see him,” said Bill Hale, 51, who made the drive to Yankee Stadium from Plainview Sunday with his wife, Rose Marie. “It’s like one of those guys you want to see early in his career. You want to see it like, I guess, one of those things maybe, hopefully, you talk about for years to come.”
Hale isn’t exaggerating.
Sanchez, considered a top Yankee prospect since the club signed him out of the Dominican Republic in 2009, has played just 22 games with the Yankees this season, but he’s done a whole lot in a very limited time.
He went 2-for-4 with a double in the Yankees’ loss Sunday, and has hit safely in six straight games. Sanchez won American League player of the week honors and, after hitting a home run Saturday, he became the quickest player in MLB history to 11 homers — 23 career games. He also hit them in a span of 53 at-bats, more than one home run in five chances.
“Gary, man, he just goes out there and works,” said fellow Yankee rookie Aaron Judge, who played with Sanchez in the minor leagues. And unlike everyone else, Judge isn’t all that shocked by what his buddy has been able to do.
“I’ve seen this for many years,” he said, grinning widely. “It’s just fun that now he’s doing it on this stage.”
And the fans love it. Sanchez got the loudest cheers when his name was announced before the game, and “Gar-y San-chez” chants seem to be the primary mode of communication at Yankee Stadium. His No. 24 jersey was listed as the top seller on Yankees.com Sunday, ahead of Derek Jeter, Babe Ruth and every Yankee icon with a plaque in Monument Park. Above all, he gives fans hope in a season expected to be a rebuilding year for the Yankees. Instead, they’re in the thick of the playoff hunt.
“Amazing,” said Chris Sano, 21, of Seaford, who also was at the game. “It’s exciting for the future because a lot more guys . . . can come up. This could possibly be the next championship team.”
Talk like that could go to Sanchez’s head, but he’s said from the beginning the extra attention won’t detract from his play.
“Having fun is part of the game you know and right now we’re going out there and giving 100 percent and good things are happening,” he said Friday through an interpreter. When asked Sunday whether it was difficult to stay focused, he shrugged it off. “I’m not changing anything,” he said, “just keeping things simple.”
One thing is certain, people in the organization are thrilled. Manager Joe Girardi lauded Sanchez’s work ethic and ability to avoid letting all the attention get to him.
“I haven’t seen him change. . . . He hasn’t been caught up in it,” Girardi said.
Yankees starter Luis Cessa, who came up with Sanchez, views the success as a byproduct of years of patience and practice.
“Sanchez is amazing now,” he said. “It’s an amazing moment for him and I’m really proud of him. He’s working hard every day.”
That’s the word people use a lot when they talk about Sanchez: “Amazing.”
Sano and Hale used it, too.
Hale went as far as to say the play of Sanchez and other rookies has him believing the postseason is a possibility.
“You can see the youth movement — the Baby Bombers — have just changed the whole direction of the season,” Hale said. “they definitely have a chance. It gives you hope.”
With Brian Heyman