Sanchez has a unique, special bond with his mom
Pirates catcher's relationship with mother makes practical jokes commonplace
PITTSBURGH -- D'Marie Recicar is always telling her son, "You show your love toward the people you love the most in the weirdest way."
Tony Sanchez proved as much early last season. He hadn't yet even taken his first sip of big league coffee -- that was still two months away -- when he texted his mom the image of a newspaper clipping with his mug prominently displayed next to the headline "Sanchez suspended."
Now, coming from a son who already had some Minor League baggage in his past, the doghouse was entirely believable, and D'Marie panicked.
"What the heck did you do? I'm shaking I'm so upset," she texted back.
Tony let it brew only for a few minutes, then clued her in: The suspended Sanchez was Jonathan, the short-lived Pirates lefty being disciplined for having hit St. Louis' Allen Craig under suspicious circumstances, but the newspaper had engaged in a bit of mistaken identity.
"That's our relationship in a nutshell, how well my mother and I get along," Sanchez said. "If you're gonna provide the material, I'm going to punk my mother -- standard procedure. I tease her like that all the time. I know what boils her blood, how to get under her skin."
Sanchez is easily the most personable, outgoing player in the Bucs' clubhouse -- maybe in any Major League clubhouse. The source of his love of life is evident: the mom who raised him since his parents' divorce when he was 7.
"Baseball was always Tony's outlet," D'Marie said. "And as a single mom, that was a blessing. When you have batting lessons at 7 a.m. Sunday morning, you aren't going to be partying Saturday night. That was the deal between us."
D'Marie and George Sanchez made sure Tony and younger sister Jackie retained a well-adjusted life, going from being a couple to being best and lifelong friends.
"Putting together a grill, putting up shutters for hurricanes ... everything my mother needs around the house, my father is there to take care of it," Sanchez said.
Still, except for every other weekend, growing up it was Tony and his mom.
"So she was a huge influence on me," he said. "She was the one to take me to all the practices. I played hockey when I was younger, and when baseball finally became the priority, she was the one financially supporting it and transporting me to and from practices and games -- at one point among three different teams -- schlepping me all over the place."
Payback is sweet. One of the first things Sanchez did when his $120,000 signing bonus as the Pirates' top 2009 Draft pick showed up in his checking account was pay off his mom's debts and present her with new wheels.
"Nothing too crazy," he said. "Just a nice little mommy-mobile."
And late last June, it was Tony's turn to do some "schlepping." He had gotten his first call from the Bucs, to join them in Anaheim, on the other side of the continent from D'Marie's Miami home. But she was in the Angels Stadium stands to see Tony play his first Major League game and collect his first big league hit, on June 23.
"It was amazing," D'Marie recalled. "I felt bad because he got me a ticket in the family section, but I bought my own ticket so I could sit closer to the dugout. Second row. I tried to take his picture, but I was shaking too much. So this lady noticed and made a point about it and I said, 'That's my son,' so she took the camera from me and took the picture.
"A guy was heckling him, because the scoreboard showed his .000 average. So I told him, 'It's his first Major League at-bat.' And when Tony got that double, the heckler became his best friend."
Being there gave D'Marie the chance to deliver her regular little inspirational messages -- "Believe!" foremost among them -- in person prior to the most important day of her son's life. Other times, the encouragements are only a phone tap away.
"She'll text me before every game," Sanchez said. "'Love you.' 'Good luck.' But 'Believe' -- that's her big thing. And she'll give you the cliched mother life advice."
Rather than roll his eyes and run from it, Sanchez keeps going back for more. Not just a figure of speech -- he still lived at home this offseason.
"Embarrassingly enough, yes," he said. "At 25, with big league time and more than enough money to buy my own place, I stayed at my mother's house. The home cooking, the laundry -- OK, that was part of it, but also just not being ready to move out."
"We had a wonderful time. We spent the mornings together, before I had to leave for work," said D'Marie, for 35 years a regional project manager for the utility Florida Power Line. "It was nice to be able to cook for him -- I love to cook. I enjoyed it. I realized it's probably the last time he'd be home; the time has come for the next chapter in his life."
Sanchez, just maybe, was still pulled back home by the memory of that day when he was starting the collegiate stage of his life, at Boston College.
"She took me there to drop me off, but when time came to say, 'See you later,' the tears started rolling," Sanchez said. "Her baby boy was out of the house ... little did she know I was gonna keep coming back as a pro and still live in her house."
Sanchez mentions that, yes, his mom is on Twitter, and right away bells go off. As many know, he is among the most "sociable" big leaguers and, in fact, his tweets got him into hot water once. But that isn't what raises the red flag -- it's the public flack he, like many athletes, gets on Twitter. Goodness, imagine a mother having to read such stuff about her son.
"It doesn't get under our skin. I'm trained to spin it. She's not," Sanchez said. "She sees what people write, she sees all the negatives. So I've given her guidelines. One time, she barked back at somebody, and I had to tell her, 'No. No. Stay with me. Keep it positive. If you see something negative written about me, don't answer it. Leave it to me.'"
"I learned you have to let it go," D'Marie said of the Twitter noise. "Just take a deep breath, and realize that everyone's got an opinion."
When every day you think about your mother, what can you do when one is formally designated as Mother's Day? That's the beauty of little things being able to make boldface statements.
"First thing, we all send flowers," said Sanchez, looking around the Pirates' clubhouse, including teammates in that gesture. "It's a small token of appreciation. 'I wouldn't be where I am without you. This is me showing you that I know that.'"
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.