SANDOVAL STEPS into the batter’s box, kicking dust into the air. He holds the bat high and waits for the pitch. He swings and lines the ball into right-center field, knocking in another run for the Giants.
Sounds familiar, right? Except in San Jose, it’s Michael Sandoval, the older brother of the San Francisco Giants star third baseman Pablo, racking up hits for the San Jose Giants.Sandoval was 17 when he began his minor league career in 1999 for the Minnesota Twins organization. He played six seasons, never making it past A ball. While Pablo was working his way up through the Giants minor league system, Michael took a break from American baseball, playing in Mexico and Venezuela. He resurfaced in America last year in the Independent League for the Newark Bears, and this year he joined the Giants midseason, and is hitting .269 with 17 RBIs.San Jose manager Brian Harper says Sandoval, now 29, is at a point in his career where he simply enjoys playing professional baseball.
“He’s alive in the clubhouse, always has a smile on his face, always wants to play cards, do something,” starting pitcher Justin Fitzgerald says. “He’s a great teammate.”
Harper says Sandoval is also producing in the middle of the lineup, just as Pablo did for San Jose in 2007–08.
“I think he’s brought some humor and relaxation to some of the younger Latin players,” Harper says. “Most of the guys are pretty young, so he’s brought in more of a veteran presence.”
Both Sandovals share a desire to win a championship, Michael says.
“Every player chasing the playoffs wants to be a champion; that’s what we’re here for,” he says. “I hope we win the championship and I hope the [San Francisco] Giants do their best.”
Whereas the San Francisco team is fighting its way toward making the playoffs, the San Jose Giants already clinched a playoff berth by winning the first half of the California League season.
San Jose has lost a few key pieces from its first-half team, such as first baseman Brandon Belt and pitcher Eric Surkamp, but Fitzgerald says the team can overcome the losses and win its second consecutive California League Championship.
“It’s all about coming together as a team without your star players,” Fitzgerald says. “I absolutely believe we have enough talent to win a championship.”
Sandoval looks out for the younger players like he looks out for his 24-year-old younger brother, whom he talks with on the phone daily.“I always keep in touch with Pablo,” he says. “We talk about everything.”
He says he hopes to play with his brother in the near future: “I think that would be a dream come true, and I hope that it happens soon.”