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(Many Paths)
An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America
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Perseverance Pays Off For Florida Marlins Reliever Brian Sanches
by Clark Spencer- Miami (FL) Herald -

His heritage and stats are noteworthy, but Brian Sanches probably is most proud of the determination it took to reach the majors.

The only American Indian in the National League has the lowest ERA in the majors.

Marlins reliever Brian Sanches is proud of his heritage and pleased with his success. But what's even more gratifying to him has been his perseverance, reaching the majors when there were many times he wanted to give up.

"There were countless times where I thought enough was enough, how much can a person take of this?" said Sanches, who turns 31 on Saturday and spent most of his professional career bouncing around the minors. "But I'd step back and regroup and keep inching along."

Perhaps it's in his blood.

Sanches is believed to be one of only three players in the majors classified as American Indian. The others are Boston's Jacoby Ellsbury and the New York Yankees' Joba Chamberlain.

Sanches, who hails from Texas, is part of the small and obscure Caddo tribe.

He has dressed up in tribal costume for annual pow-wows and proudly checks the box on registration forms proclaiming him as American Indian.

The Baseball Almanac lists 50 full-blooded American Indian players who have played in the majors over the years. Seven of them are nicknamed "Chief." Two of them -- Chief Bender and Zack Wheat -- are in the Hall of Fame.

It's safe to say that Sanches probably won't be headed for the Hall when his career is finished. He didn't reach the majors until he was 26 and has only four victories.

"It seems like my whole career I've had to work a little more than others," Sanches said. "It seems like it's always taken me a little bit longer to kind of -- I hate to say it -- `get it."

Sanches, who attended Lamar University in Texas, was a second-round draft pick of the Kansas City Royals in 1999. But he said his value probably was inflated.

"I was never supposed to be a second-rounder," he said. "I was never supposed to go play college. I didn't get drafted in high school high. I was raw."

At one point in his minor-league career, Sanches almost was finished.

He was stalled for so many years (three) at Double A Wichita (Kan.) -- part of the Royals' farm system -- that he said he would have saved money had he bought a house there instead of renting an apartment.

It wasn't until he landed in the Phillies organization that his fortunes changed. One of his minor-league pitching coaches, Rod Nichols, ordered wholesale changes to his delivery.

"We need to change things, otherwise this is going to be the end," Sanches said he remembered Nichols telling him once.

Sanches changed his delivery and perfected a split-fingered fastball.

"That pitch, I really believe, is what got me to the big leagues," he said.

Sanches had brief stints with the Phillies and Nationals before the Marlins signed him over the offseason.

He was so impressive during spring training that he remained on the roster until the very end. In fact, he was the last player cut.

"That was kind of gut-wrenching," Sanches said. "I've never been that far. I had never lasted the entire spring training, and it was close."

Sanches told his wife, Kylie, who was eight months' pregnant at the time, that he was thankful. But he also told her that he might cry no matter the outcome, whether the club kept him or cut him.

"On the one hand I'd be so happy I'd cry," he said. "On the other, I'd be so disappointed that I might cry, because I had never been that close before with my age, and I've been through a lot."

The Marlins cut him, but they didn't forget him.

In June, they promoted him from Triple A New Orleans, and Sanches has done nothing to disappoint. He has given up only three runs in 28 1/3 innings. His 0.95 ERA is the lowest among all major-league pitchers with at least 25 innings thrown this season.

Ironically, one of the only runs he gave up was a home run by Ellsbury at Fenway Park in June.

On Saturday, Sanches was summoned from the bullpen in the second inning when Burke Badenhop was knocked out early. Sanches pitched 3 1/3 scoreless innings, striking out six and preserving the bullpen for the rest of the series against the Cubs.

With Badenhop going on the 15-day disabled list Sunday with a sore neck, Sanches was tapped by Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez to be the long-relief man, for the time being at least.

Sanches has been up and down many times.

"You think you've got it, and then you get sent back to the minors," Sanches said. "There have been a handful of times when I thought, `That's it."'

At the moment, though, Sanches is feeling just fine.

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