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Pablo Sandoval, Third Baseman / San Francisco Giants - The Players' Tribune

Day One is a new Players’ Tribune series where athletes sit down with the people who’ve been in their life since the beginning, and discuss their journey to the pros. This installment features Pablo Sandoval of the Boston Red Sox in conversation with his brother, Michael.

Michael:
When we were little kids growing up in Venezuela, nobody had any real equipment. We didn’t have the means to buy it. But Pablo and I loved baseball, so we would improvise. We got really good at finding anything we could get our hands on in the neighborhood.

Pablo:
We used to make a ball by taking some duct tape and rolling, rolling, rolling it until it was almost round like a baseball. It would never be totally round — that made the ball a little harder to hit.

Michael:
For the bat, we would take a big broom handle and cut it in half so that we would have two bats, in case we lost one. Sometimes we would play at the park when our friends were around but Pablo and I wanted to play all the time, so we used to play one-on-one in a garage behind our house.

Pablo:
You used to cheat so bad, man.

Michael:
I did. I was the older brother! It was my job to cheat to make you tough.

Pablo:
We didn’t have a catcher so we would mark a little square on the wall of the garage for the strike zone. This guy would be calling everything a strike, man.

Michael:
One day when I was about 13, and Pablo was 8, he got so mad. He was getting so good at hitting by then that I kept having to cheat more and more when I was the pitcher. I was throwing pitches way outside and calling them strikes, and I was talking shit, like, “Oh no, you’re losing little bro! Haha!”

Pablo:
I warned you. I knew what you were doing.

Michael:
He caught on and I kept shouting, “Steeee-trike! Steeeek-rike!”

Pablo:
I charged the mound.

Michael:
He came at me! He swung the bat at my leg.

Pablo:
It was a broom, man.

Michael:
Still, it hurt! I had an important Little League game the next day, and I couldn’t play because my leg was messed up.

Pablo:
What did you say to the coaches? “My 8-year-old brother beat me up.”

Michael:
I had no words, man.

Pablo:
We used to play every single day after school. People don’t understand how big baseball is in Venezuela. We didn’t get many MLB games on TV. We grew up watching the Venezuelan professional league. We wanted to be like those guys, you know?

Michael:
Pablo was born left-handed. But he wanted to be just like his hero Omar Vizquel, so he taught himself how to throw right-handed. He learned really fast. It took him about a month and he could throw both ways.

Pablo:
My dream growing up wasn’t to win the World Series — it was to win a championship with Navegantes del Magallanes in the Venezuelan league. We had a family friend who was a batboy for the team, so we would go and hang around the clubhouse with him. When the big league players came down to play winter ball, we would watch their every move. Vizquel, Andres Galarraga — those were our heroes. When I made it to the Giants and I was playing third base next to Vizquel … wow. I couldn’t believe it. It was a dream come true for me.

Michael:
Baseball in Venezuela is different than MLB. There’s only 60 regular season games, so every game is much more intense. The crowd is really wild in Venezuela. They get to the field at 4 p.m. for a 7 p.m. game. They put a lot of pressure on you to perform, especially if you have the reputation of being a big leaguer. You better do a good job.

Pablo:
Yeah, the crowd is so much crazier than the MLB crowd. This is a true story: We played on the road for the 2012 Venezuelan League championship. The stadium was normally 45 minutes away. It took our bus five hours to get through the city because of how crazy it was.

Michael:
Also, there’s cheerleaders, which is pretty cool.

Pablo:
When winter ball is going on, that’s all the entire country cares about. It’s a way for people to forget about what’s going on in the country for a little while and to have fun.

Michael:
I think once you have played in the Venezuelan league, there’s a little less pressure coming to MLB.  When you play there, you can’t be nervous anymore. The whole media — the whole country — has their eyes on you. That’s why so many players from Latin America have performed really well during the World Series.

Pablo:
Game 1 of the 2012 World Series, I hit three home runs. I remember thinking, Man, I’ve already done this a thousand times before. But it was with a tape ball in the garage. The rule was whenever you hit it out of the garage, it was a home run.

Michael:
Nobody knows Pablo’s swing better than I do. Early on last season, he was struggling a little bit. I noticed a little thing in his mechanic that causing him to chase pitches and not recognize the breaking ball. So I called one of my friends in San Francisco, and I asked him to let me use his batting cage.

Pablo:
He called me up and said, “Hey, we’re going to the cages.” We had a long talk about what my mentality was when I was taking BP and when I stepped to the plate. I was trying to do too much. After that, I started hitting the ball a lot better.

Michael:
The perfect Pablo swing is when his hands stay behind. When he’s hitting left-handed and a right-handed pitcher throws him a slider to his back foot — wow. He’s going to hit that ball out of the park.

Pablo:
Hitting is all about your mentality. That’s one thing I learned from Galaraga. When things aren’t going well, you have to remember that you’re playing a game. Frustration is what can kill you. I play best when I’m having fun.

Michael:
I used to play winter ball with Marco Scutaro and Henry Blanco. I had a pretty good rookie season and they were saying, “Wow, you can really hit.” I remember telling them, “You think I’m good? Wait until you see my little brother, man.” They were laughing like, Yeah, sure.

Pablo:
When we won the Series, we were all taking a photo together, and Scutaro turned to Michael and said, “Hey, I guess your little brother is pretty good!”

Michael:

You know what though, bro? I tell you all the time — you have a World Series and a Venezuelan Championship, but I have the Caribbean Series title!

Pablo:
We’re going to have to play some one-on-one to settle this. I’m getting an umpire this time so you can’t cheat me.

Photographs By AP Photos

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