Pitch after pitch, he was on the mark throwing to a group of college-age players as they swung from the batting cage. Every hit off his fungo bat to the infielders went where he wanted, challenging them to be ready.
Well into Anthony Sanders pitching to the Aztecs, a team in the Sun Belt College Summer League, on Monday night, one onlooker at the Kino Sports Complex fields said, “He can sure throw it. I haven’t seen him mess up yet.”
He could sure throw it as one of the most efficient quarterbacks to play at the high school level in Tucson when he was an athletic 6-foot and 185-pound standout at Santa Rita as a senior in 1991.
Dick Tomey was still trying to put together a consistent, balanced offense five years into his tenure at Arizona when he recruited Sanders in 1992, outworking ASU, Minnesota and Oregon State among others. The Beavers came into play because the late Osia Lewis, a Tucson High great who is a family friend of the Sanders, was an assistant coach at Oregon State.
“You have to hope the whole experience sparks something in Anthony and makes him want to be part of the college life and college experience,” Tomey told reporters after Sanders reported along with his teammates to Camp Cochise in Douglas in early August 1992.
Sanders could sure hit, run and field as a baseball prospect as well, selected in the seventh round of the 1992 MLB draft by the Toronto Blue Jays two months prior to Sanders joining the Wildcats at Camp Cochise.
Just beating the deadline before attending his first class at Arizona on Aug. 20, 1992, Sanders chose to start his professional baseball career instead of play football for the Wildcats. A six-figure signing bonus and Toronto agreeing to pay for his college education finalized the deal.
“I went with my heart really,” Sanders said at the time.
Baseball remains a significant part of his life with a future in the sport just as bright as when he signed the contract with Toronto 28 years ago.
In November, the Baltimore Orioles hired him to be their first base coach after he spent the past 14 seasons as a manager, coach and instructor in the Colorado Rockies’ minor-league system.
Sanders turned and looked at the Aztecs throwing long toss behind him Monday.
“It’s actually nice to come out here to the baseball field; it’s one of my first days coming out here to Kino, with the (college) league about to start, just to see guys get out of the house a little bit and start playing catch and get in the groove of things,” Sanders said.
Sanders, who physically looks like he can still play at at age 46, showed his personable coaching skills when he assisted Aztecs manager Michael Odum with the workout.
When the team set up for practice, Sanders helped move the equipment into place. He interacted with them the way a father would, shouting instruction and offering encouragement.
One of his sons, Logan, is part of the team. After graduating from Catalina Foothills last year, Logan attended Colorado Mesa University this school year. Because COVID-19 forced the season to be cut short, Logan retained his freshman status and decided to transfer to Ken Jacome’s program at Pima.
Logan played wide receiver for Jeff Scurran as a senior at Catalina Foothills in 2018. His brothers Marcus and Troy are attending Catalina Foothills and plan to play football and baseball.
Marcus, a junior, and Troy, a sophomore, are on the same path as their father, chasing their baseball dreams with football mixed in, all the while getting an education. Anthony also played basketball at Santa Rita in an era when a high school athlete played more than two sports.
“It sounded like he was a stud being a QB for football in high school, but I stuck with baseball,” Logan said of his dad after doing a round of batting practice, taking pitches from him.
When told his sons are football and baseball players just like him, Anthony said with a laugh, “No, they are better than I am.”
His sons are being raised in Tucson just like he was by his parents Benjie and Phyllis Sanders. Benjie, a long jumper on the track and field team when he attended Arizona, was a longtime photographer at The Arizona Daily Star who personifies class. I know personally having worked with Benjie at the Star for more than a decade. Negativity and Benjie don’t mix.
“His parents are the nicest people. They’re unbelievable. You can see where he gets his personality from,” said Kino Baseball League president Bill Leith, who organizes the Sun Belt College Summer League. “He’s tremendous with the kids.”
Raised in Tucson by Benjie and Phyllis helped Anthony get to where he is at today with his career.
The years playing in Tucson Youth Football and with Santa Rita Little League set the stage for him to succeed at Santa Rita High School. That provided the opportunity to choose between playing college football and pursue a professional baseball career. He can thank his background here with his parents for helping him persevere through 26 different stops in the minors and majors in 13 years with time also spent in Mexico and Japan.
“I played all sports coming up as a kid, from soccer to baseball to basketball, over at Santa Rita Little League to Santa Rita High School, and I ended up signing from there,” Anthony said. “Tucson has been home. I’ve been to a lot of places and there’s no place like home.
“It’s good to see some of these young kids now creating opportunities for themselves.”
Eight years after making that fateful decision to concentrate on playing baseball, Anthony solidified that choice earning an Olympic gold medal as an outfielder for Team USA in the 2000 Sydney Games. He may have played in only 13 games at the major-league level for Toronto and Seattle from 1999 to 2001 but what defines him more is not giving up through the process.
After his playing career came to a close in 2005, Sanders went into coaching in the Rockies’ system and also served on the USA Baseball coaching staff, which helped him land his position with the Orioles. Baltimore’s new director of player development Matt Blood spent three years as director of its 18-and-under National Team Program.
“It’s a dream come true as a player or a coach to get there,” Anthony said of joining the Orioles. “It’s awesome to get there and share the dreams with some of these young kids.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has delayed the start of his coaching career in the big leagues — “I’m waiting for that call for the season to begin,” he said — but the silver-lining is he has spent more time with his sons helping their development.
The Orioles recently posted a YouTube video of Sanders teaching fielding to his sons as part of their Five-Tool Series. He posted the video of him hitting fungo to his kids in the street outside his house, and although this was on pavement and not grass, every time he hit the ball, it found the spot of where his sons had to make the play with proper footing and release of the ball.
“The work ethic is everything,” Logan said when asked of his dad’s impact on him as a baseball player. “He really knows how to do things right. He knows what you have to do to get where you want to be.”
The next step Anthony wants to take to reach where he wants to be is becoming a big-league manager.
“Right now, I got my foot in the door and hopefully I can stay there long enough to see one of my boys play there one day,” Anthony said. “I don’t take any days for granted and I enjoy every day I’m there.”
Through all his experiences in baseball, with plenty of ups and downs, he keeps the values his parents bestowed on him about remaining a positive influence on others.
“For any coach who is coming up or wants to get in the game, a lot of times it’s not about your knowledge, it’s about the people, the person you are,” he said. “I think that goes a long way.”
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.