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Sanchez makes debut behind plate at PNC Park

| Wednesday, July 31, 2013, 12:36 a.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates catcher Tony Sanchez takes the field Tuesday, July 30, 2013, at the start of Game 2 of a doubleheader against St. Louis at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates catcher Tony Sanchez hits a sacrifice fly for his first major league RBI against the Cardinals on Tuesday, July 30, 2013, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates catcher Tony Sanchez takes the field Tuesday, July 30, 2013, at the start of Game 2 of a doubleheader against St. Louis at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates catcher Tony Sanchez celebrates with center fielder Andrew McCutchen after defeating the Cardinals on Tuesday, July 30, 2013, at PNC Park.

Tony Sanchez felt as if all 33,861 pairs of eyes at PNC Park were on him when he walked out of the dugout to take the field for the first time Tuesday night.

It wasn't technically his Pirates debut; that was last month. But it was different. The 25-year-old catcher appeared in two interleague road games as the designated hitter, but he never was behind the plate. He wasn't playing at PNC Park, where he'd set foot only once before Monday — when the Pirates made him their first-round pick (fourth overall) in 2009.

This time, he finally was getting the chance to prove what he can do, knowing how much he struggled to get to the big leagues and feeling as if everyone in the ballpark knew it, too.

“This has been a long road for me, and I'm finally back there,” Sanchez said. “It doesn't help that you read Twitter and you know that people are anticipating your first start. I felt like everybody was watching me and any move I made they saw.”

Sanchez made all the right moves in his first start catching in the majors, working with Brandon Cumpton through seven scoreless innings to help his Triple-A teammate most of this season earn his first major league win. Sanchez was 0 for 3 at the plate but hit a sacrifice fly to drive in a run and help the Pirates win their second game of the day against the St. Louis Cardinals, 6-0.

Sanchez's struggles were both on and off the field as he navigated life as a professional ball player, and he admitted even he wasn't always sure Tuesday night would ever come.

“I'm not going to lie,” Sanchez said. “When I was hitting .240 in Double-A for my second year, I was like, ‘Well, it's not going to work out. Baseball's not as easy as it was in college.' But you grind through it. I've been to the bottom of the barrel as far as adversity goes, but you never quit. ... I almost got emotional hugging (bench coach Jeff) Banister and (manager Clint) Hurdle. Banister's been with me since 2009, and for him to tell me how proud of me he was, all the adversity makes it all worth it.”

Catching Cumpton helped, Sanchez said, and the right-hander agreed it was a good fit.

“I was on the same page with Tony tonight, and luckily we got through it,” Cumpton said.

“I think everybody in the organization was looking forward to the day when he'd be able to get behind the plate,” Hurdle said before the game.

Including Sanchez.

“I was talking to (pitcher Vic Black, who made his major league debut Thursday) the other day, and it was like, ‘OK, we're big leaguers. Not a lot of guys can say we made it to the big leagues, and you and I can. Let's make the most of it and see how good we can be.' ”

Karen Price is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach her at kprice@tribweb.com or via Twitter @KarenPrice_Trib.

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