Sanchez saw life redemption in father role

After disciplinary problems early in his career, birth of his daughter filled missing puzzle piece

Sanchez saw life redemption in father role

NEW YORK -- All of baseball was in awe by Gary Sanchez's power last season, when the slugger terrorized opposing pitching staffs with a historic home run-hitting tear. The audience never saw the origin of that surge, an adorable toddler with curly black hair who loves to babble and play with her daddy.

Sanchez had a transformative moment in a Trenton, N.J., hospital back in 2015, when he and his wife Sahaira welcomed their daughter, Sarah, into the world. Sanchez snipped the umbilical cord, admired her face and made a silent promise to be the best father he possibly could.

"Imagine, just like that, you're a dad," Sanchez said through an interpreter. "The responsibility that comes with that, being a dad, it's a big responsibility. It's something that you have to take very seriously. There's a kid now that you want to provide for and make sure that she's comfortable and has a good life."

Then just 22, Sanchez recalls being "very surprised" when he found out that Sahaira was expecting, but "at the same time, very happy."

"When I first saw her, I was afraid to hold her," Sanchez said. "As a man, you feel like you're going to hurt the baby. She was very tiny and fragile. I didn't want to harm her in any way."

Signed at age 16 out of the Dominican Republic, the Yankees dreamed on Sanchez for years, but disciplinary issues peppered his record and suggested that he had some growing up to do. Sarah turned out to be the final piece of the puzzle.

"Even before my daughter was born, I was in the process of becoming a more mature player," Sanchez said. "Once she was born, it was kind of like a switch went off. I saw the opportunity in front of me. I just decided, whatever I need to do and whatever it takes to get to the big leagues, let's get it done now."

Shortly after rejoining Double-A Trenton, coaches noticed Sanchez taking a more purposeful approach in batting practice and spending more time in the weight room. Sanchez was rewarded with his Major League debut later that season, and bench coach Tony Pena said that Sanchez's focus had improved when they worked together the next spring.

"Before, you had to force him to do things," Pena said. "Now he understands that he needs to keep improving. He's doing it. Sometimes it's the nature of human beings. Some people grow up faster than others. I think there are a lot of Latin American players that it takes a long time to grow. I love to see the way he handles himself."

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Sanchez's 20 homers last year were the most by any player who did not hit one prior to Aug. 1 of that season. With 20 homers in his first 51 games, he equaled an 86-year-old record set by Wally Berger of the 1930 Boston Braves.

Could it all be traced back to the arrival of little Sarah? Sanchez doesn't mind that suggestion one bit.

"Definitely, when you have a daughter, it's kind of like a source of energy and motivation," Sanchez said. "It pushes you to do more, to be better. Maybe in the future, if I have another one, I'll have even more motivation."

Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and on Facebook. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.