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Miami native Sanchez happy he stayed put

Miami native Sanchez happy he stayed put

Miami native Sanchez happy he stayed put
MIAMI -- Gaby Sanchez followed the Marlins' pursuit of Albert Pujols earlier this offseason with great interest.

The business of baseball came into play. Sanchez understood that, and didn't begrudge it. The 28-year-old first baseman also recognized that he would be most impacted by it, if Miami did in fact sign the free-agent slugger.

So when Pujols opted to go with the Angels at the Winter Meetings in December, Sanchez let out a small sigh of relief. Pujols' decision pretty much secured Sanchez staying in Miami.

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"I want to play here," said Sanchez, a Miami native. "I don't want to go anywhere else. This is where I live. This is my hometown. I don't want to go anywhere. When he said he was going to sign with the Angels, I was like, 'Thank you!'"

Even after Pujols signed, there were some rumblings that the Marlins were looking at Prince Fielder. Most of those stories were overstated, and Sanchez was given indications not to pay close attention to them.

Marlins officials spoke briefly to Sanchez and his agent, telling them that the club wasn't in the market for another first baseman.

"I had heard from some people that they weren't going to pursue Fielder," Sanchez said. "They were only going to pursue Albert. There was a lot less worry that I was going to get traded when you talk about Fielder."

Speculation about Fielder was put to rest in January when he signed with the Tigers. Once Pujols and Fielder were off the board, Sanchez had little to worry about in terms of being traded.

The Marlins' interest in Pujols wasn't a reflection on Sanchez, who was a National League All-Star in 2011. In Pujols, the Marlins saw an opportunity to go after the first baseman who many consider to be the top player in the game, a future Hall of Famer who has star power that arguably is unmatched in the game.

Because Pujols is an iconic figure, the Marlins saw him as a potential huge attendance draw, who would help increase the team's ticket sales at the club's new ballpark for years to come.

"They were doing what they thought was better for the team," Sanchez said. "I don't take that as a hit. I don't take having a guy like Albert Pujols getting talked about to play first base, and me getting traded, as anything. He's proven what he can do for 10 straight years. I still have so much time to go."

Sanchez has been one of Miami's most dependable players in each of his first two big league seasons. Last year, he hit .266 with 19 home runs and 78 RBIs in 159 games.

In the first half, Sanchez's numbers were certainly All-Star worthy, as he hit .293 with 13 home runs and 50 RBIs. He ended up being the lone Marlin selected to the Midsummer Classic.

In the second half, however, Sanchez began to wear down. He played through an achy right knee, and saw his numbers dip to .225 with six home runs and 28 RBIs after the All-Star break.

Ready for a fresh start in a new season, and playing in a new ballpark, Sanchez is eager to build on what is developing into a promising career.

"For me, I'm just going to do whatever I can do," he said. "I'm going to train hard. I'm going to work hard, and do whatever I need to do to prepare for the season, wherever it is. Hopefully it is with the Marlins. If it's not, then it's going to be somewhere else."

For now, Sanchez doesn't have to worry about relocating. The team is counting on him playing first base when it opens on April 4 against the Cardinals at Marlins Park.

The level-headed Sanchez isn't approaching 2012 as a year in which he has to do more to prove himself because the Marlins attempted to sign Pujols.

"I can't say I use that as motivation and say, 'Hey, I'm going to do this,' or 'I'm going to do that.' That's just putting too much pressure," he said.

Sanchez also didn't spend time this offseason wondering where he might play, if the Marlins had added Pujols.

"That's not one of the things I wanted to start doing, because you never know," he said. "The Marlins still had my rights to do whatever they wanted to. So even if I said, 'Which teams?' it might have been a team that already had a first baseman, and they wanted to get something for me.

"I was like, 'If it happens, I'll just wait for them to tell me where I'm going.' After that, we'll see."

Sanchez certainly is glad he is staying home. He grew up and went to school in Miami. His collegiate career was played at the University of Miami, and he was the Marlins' fourth-round pick in the 2005 First-Year Player Draft.

A life-long fan of the team, it is fitting that Sanchez is lined up to start in the first game at Miami's new ballpark. If he wasn't part of the team's new beginning, it would have been a culture shock.

"It would have been a shock," Sanchez said. "I've never had to look for a house somewhere else, or an apartment. I live here. I have my house here. Definitely it would have been a different step. Luckily, I don't have to worry about that now."

Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. He writes a blog, called The Fish Pond. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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