Everyone knows how the New York Yankees’ exciting rookie Yangervis Solarte has paid his dues. But he is not the first international-born player to play third base for the Yankees after a professional preparation of seven or more years.
That distinction goes to Celerino Sánchez, who played for the Yanks in 1972 and 1973. Sánchez, like Solarte, captured the hearts of Yankees’ fans with his hustle and a strong work ethic. After seven years in the Mexican League, Yankees scouts got wind of the south of the border star. Sánchez was signed by the Yankees and assigned to their Syracuse Chiefs affiliate.
When a hot grounder rocketed down the third base line, Sánchez would dive and snag it, even though the ball frequently appeared to already be passed him. From his knees in foul territory, he would fling the ball across the diamond to nail the runner with a half a step to spare.
Sanchez simply was as spectacular as it gets with the glove. Unfortunately, he was not as adept with the bat. His lifetime average was .242 with one home run and 31 RBI. So when Nettles came to New York, he returned home to play in the Mexican League until 1979.
But his legend didn’t end when his playing days were over. Sánchez was enshrined in the Mexican Baseball Hall of Fame in 1994, and the Caribbean Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006.
Yankees fans also remember Hensley Meulens, who born in Curacao, and played third, first and left field from 1989-1993. But Meulens is not grouped with Solarte and Sánchez because he took just four years to reach New York after being drafted in 1985, and because he never generated the same excitement.
He was affectionately known as Bam-Bam. But his stats didn’t match his nickname, as his career numbers were .220 with 15 homers and 53 RBI.
So Solarte is one of two and just getting started.
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