White Sox second baseman Yolmer Sanchez loves his country and his family. That’s why he — like so many Venezuelans in the majors — is playing with a heavy heart during these difficult times in his homeland.
The political, economic and humanitarian crises in Venezuela triggered by Nicolas Maduro’s regime have left mass shortages of basic necessities such as food and medicine. Loved ones of those trapped in the middle watch anxiously from afar.
“My whole family is there,” Sanchez, 26, of Maracay, said. “My mom and dad, brothers, sisters, my friends. It’s hard. I check my phone 24-7. I call my mom every day. You think about your country. But you have to be a professional and focus on your work.’’
Sanchez, the Sox’ second-best player in 2018, according to Baseball Reference’s wins above replacement, wasn’t very good at his job during the first 10 games of the season. But since going 3-for-33 and committing four errors at second base during that awful stretch, Sanchez is batting .287 with no errors.
Sanchez and teammate Jose Rondon are among nearly 100 Venezuelans on major-league rosters. Sanchez knows he’s not the only player with heavy personal issues or family matters that people in all walks of life deal with, and he does not link his bad start to things that weigh on his mind.
“You want to get off to a good start, and sometimes you try to do too much,” he said, “and I was swinging at bad pitches. I just worked on my pitch selection.
“I struggled defensively, too, and that’s my strong side. You calm yourself down, say, ‘Today is not your day, and tomorrow will be better.’ People don’t see you coming in here working hard every day; they just see the results. I just try to do my best, stay positive, and if I don’t get the result, I wait for the results to get better.”
Between the slump and worries back home, it hasn’t been easy for Sanchez to stay in character as the talkative life of the clubhouse and orchestrator of zany walk-off celebrations. There are days when he sits quietly by his locker, but he still has his moments.
“I’ve always been a person who has fun,” Sanchez said. “That’s just who I am.”
But it’s hard to be all fun and games when stuff — real-life stuff — is going on. Sanchez is thankful that his wife, Moralis, and two young sons are in Chicago with him. And he “feels blessed” that he can assist his family financially, but there’s not much more he can do.
“It’s hard because we’re human,” he said. “You want to see your family and friends and your people doing well. My hope is that my country can be the same as it was when I was a child. I remember my country as a beautiful country, a place where you could do whatever you wanted to — play in the street, play with your friends — and now it’s hard.
“People are dying in Venezuela right now; they don’t have food and medicine. The hospitals are so bad. It’s really sad.”
Knowing his wife and kids are safer in the United States helps Sanchez sleep better. Knowing children like his own are in peril back home doesn’t.
“The hard part is, my [second] son was just born, and a lot of times I see newborn babies, children in the street,” he said. “And it breaks my heart. That could be my son. It’s so sad. It’s so hard.’’
BLUE JAYS AT SOX
Thursday: Marcus Stroman (1-6, 3.12 ERA) vs. Dylan Covey (0-2, 5.91), 7:10 p.m., NBCSCH+, 720-AM.
Friday: Aaron Sanchez (3-4, 3.75) vs. Ivan Nova (2-3, 6.29), 7:10 p.m., NBCSCH, 720-AM.
Saturday: TBA vs. Lucas Giolito (4-1, 3.55), 1:10 p.m., NBCSCH, 720-AM.
Sunday: Trent Thornton (1-4, 4.81) vs. Reynaldo Lopez (3-4, 5.58), 1:10 p.m., Ch. 9, 720-AM.