SAN DIEGO • They showed up in throngs of light blue yet went almost unnoticed until the fourth inning.
When Aaron Sanchez emerged from the West team dugout to take the mound in the bottom of the fourth inning Sunday night at the AFLAC All American High School Baseball Classic at Petco Park in San Diego, they made their presence well known.
The Barstow High School pitcher received possibly the loudest reception of the night as he got his turn to pitch.
"It was pretty loud," Sanchez said.
Family and friends, who took up almost the entire section directly behind home plate, stood up in light blue "Sanchez" T-Shirts, which Sanchez's family printed and sold more than 100 for the game. Several also held a "Sanchez Gang" sign in support.
"Everyone from Barstow came down to watch this guy play," joked West coach Steve Vickery after the game.
The West and East played to a 4-4 tie after 10 innings. The teams consisted mostly of players entering their final year of high school competition.
For the most part Sanchez didn't disappoint his transplanted hometown crowd. He faced five batters in one inning of work, struck out the final batter he faced, walked one and allowed one run on one hit as the West exited the inning with a 2-1 lead. He reached 92 mph with his fastball.
"I wish I would have done a little bit better than what I did, but it's all right," Sanchez said. "I didn't like the run."
It was a near big-league experience for the 17-year-old right-handed pitcher playing on the Padres home field in front of 8,027 fans. Sanchez signed autographs alongside Las Vegas High School catcher Bryce Harper, who appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated in June and was call "the LeBron James of baseball" by the magazine, and several other teammates for about 15 minutes following the game. He described the pregame autograph session as "even crazier."
"The experience was probably the best thing that could have ever happened," Sanchez said. "Just the fans and the camaraderie and asking people for their signatures and everything else, it's just a big-time thing. It makes you feel kind of special at a young age."
These types of events are becoming more and more typical for Sanchez. By the end of the summer, he'll have played in five big-league stadiums.
It's a spot that could be an even more familiar setting in the years to come. Sanchez gained scouts before the summer but enhanced his profile with appearances in several other showcases and tournaments across the country.
"I think he's going to be a big-time player," Vickery said. "Scouts love his loose arm and then you look at his frame and you say, 'Hey man, we could put 25 to 30 pounds on this kid ... and he's going to get it up there.' He's helped himself out by this event."
While Sanchez might have made an impression on scouts, he left a bigger one on his West teammates. Harper, who caught for Sanchez in the fourth inning, said they became friends throughout the week of events for AFLAC and hopes to say in touch.
"I liked his stuff a lot," Harper said. "He has pretty good off-speed (pitches). His fastball ran a little bit so that was a little hard to catch, but I thought he threw really well actually."
Rancho Buena Vista infielder Tony Wolters said Sanchez was a great teammate throughout the week.
"He's funny. He has big legs," said Wolters, who was named the game's most valuable player. "He's a very smart pitcher. He throws very hard. He's going to get drafted."
Players arrived in San Diego for the game on Wednesday and participated in a variety of activities throughout the week from baseball practices to visiting Sea World to playing games at their hotel. Visiting Rady Children's Hospital in San Diego was the highlight of week, Sanchez said.
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