“You have to be present for your kids,” Sánchez, a 35-year-old starting pitcher, said. “It can be so hard with baseball, and how our schedules are, but you want them to grow up knowing who you are.”
Sánchez is one of many fathers on the Nationals, and across the majors, juggling parenting and baseball. Reliever Hunter Strickland flew to Georgia on Sunday with him and his wife expecting their second baby girl. Reliever Daniel Hudson has two young daughters in Phoenix, and he FaceTimes with them every morning and before every game. He has bounced around in the past few seasons, including to the Nationals at this year’s trade deadline, and wants his family to have a set base. That’s a common decision for players who don’t have long-term contracts. And Sánchez, on a two-year deal with Washington, has been with three clubs in the past three seasons.
His daughter, Anabella, is almost 7. His son, also named Aníbal, was born 20 months ago. The kids and his wife, Ana, were with him all summer, living in Washington, traveling city to city, coming to as many games as they could. But because Anabella is in first grade now, and Sánchez doesn’t want her missing school, he is apart from his family in the spring and fall. They went back to Miami at the start of August, before he left for a 10-game road trip, and he felt the void when he returned. His apartment felt quiet and empty. So he FaceTimed them right away, smiling through his iPhone screen, and told Anabella and little Aníbal that he’d be home soon.
“I tell all my guys the same thing: Family first, baseball second,” Nationals Manager Dave Martinez said. “Aníbal came to me earlier this season saying he wanted to visit his kids and his wife on off days. I told him that was a great idea, and just be ready to pitch every fifth day.”
Much of Sánchez’s outlook — on being a baseball player, on being a father, on life — is rooted in tragedy. His first son, Alan, was born in September 2006. But when he and his first wife brought Alan to Venezuela during the 2007 offseason, to where Sánchez grew up, the 1-year-old baby contracted Dengue fever from a mosquito bite. Alan died that December. Sánchez soon had his son’s face, dimpled and smiling, tattooed on his right shoulder.
He had learned, in the hardest way possible, that every second with a child is “worth the world.”
“If I can help it, if I can make the late-night flight or the long drive, I never want to miss a thing with my kids,” Sánchez said. “There is really nothing more important to me.”
He prefers to catch the last flight out to Miami, taking off from Reagan National Airport and landing around 1 a.m. But if a game goes too long and he can’t make it in time, Sánchez is on the first available nonstop flight in the morning. A regular day is him taking Anabella to school before playing with baby Aníbal. Next he picks up Anabella, sometimes taking Aníbal with him, and helps her tackle homework for the first time. They do worksheets on beginner’s math and spelling and whatever else she brings home. He later puts the kids to bed, right as the sun dips below the water beyond their backyard, and spends time with Ana.
Then he wakes up the next morning, takes Anabella to school again, plays with his son for a few more hours and, before noon, is flying back to Washington. He is in the Nationals Park clubhouse by 2 p.m. Most people around the club, including teammates and staffers, don’t even know he’s ever gone.
“As the year has gone on, I can really see the balance being important for him,” said Martinez, who would often travel to see his kids on days off toward the end of his 16-year playing career. “It’s hard. You miss a lot. And not being there, not knowing what’s going on in school or whatever it is, that can weigh on the kids and that’s the last thing you want. I know that’s the last thing Sanchie wants.”
The righty had a slow start with the Nationals, landing on the injured list with a hamstring injury in May, but has been rock solid since. He gave up one earned run in 8⅓ innings in a win Friday. He has a 3.18 ERA and an 8-0 record in his past 15 starts. He still has it, even in his mid-30s, but often wonders how many years he has left.
Because whenever he is home, whenever Anabella learns something new, whenever Aníbal looks at him with those round eyes, Sánchez feels a pull toward whatever’s after baseball. He sees longer days in Miami, no more reason to sneak into the house after dark, no more flights between him and those he loves. He sees a decision to make — not now, not until this pennant race unfolds and he plays the second year of his contract — and maybe even dreams of being settled, finally and for good.
“I think about it all the time,” Sánchez said. “I don’t know what will happen with this game. I don’t know how long it will have me, but I think about that all the time.”