Ricky Sanchez has been a staple on the Dawgs for the past few years and Okotoks has embraced him as one of their own.

Sanchez who was born in Mexico City fell in love with baseball at an early age.

"It came from my grandparent; he was the one that took my brother to a baseball practice. So, when my brother was actually practicing, I was like two years old and then I always played with my aunt. She was playing catch with me; she would throw me the ball and I would just hit it. After a couple years of just doing that, I was just like 'I want to play too'. I just fell in love since I was two years old," Sanchez said.

"My mom has pictures of me, and I was actually playing in diapers."

Ricky Sanchez running to first base after making contact with the ball.Ricky Sanchez running to first base after making contact with the ball.

He gave a ton of credit to his brother Eddie Sanchez who played for Okotoks, in helping him get in touch with the Dawgs and making the move to Canada to play baseball.

"I'm here in Canada because of my brother. The (Okotoks Dawgs Academy) did a showcase back in Mexico and then they liked my brother and Alejo Lopez who is now in the big leagues. After my brother was done, he asked me 'do you want to play college ball or what do you want to do', I was like 'I want to do the same as you'. So, my brother reached out to Tyler Hollick (GM of the Dawgs) and all of them, my brother was like 'I have a younger brother who wants to play ball just like me'," he said.

"My brother was pretty loved here too; they know who Eddie Sanchez is. Big thank you to my brother, that's what brought me to Canada. Now this little town which is growing a lot since I was here, I just fell in love with this town too."

Although Sanchez learned English in Mexico starting in grade one, when he moved to Okotoks the language barrier was surprising to him. He mentioned it wasn't the words that he couldn't understand but the speed in which people talked to him. Now, he has a strong grasp of the language and joked by saying 'look at me now'.

Ricky Sanchez diving for second base to get a double.Ricky Sanchez diving for second base to get a double.

Coming from the nice weather in Mexico to Canada was a shock for Sanchez as he was excited about seeing snow but was annoyed by the long winters up north.

"Seeing snow for the first time, for the first two weeks was like 'man it's actually pretty cool' but after two weeks it was super cold. Two weeks was awesome and then after two weeks I was like 'Dude...' it's just a long winter," Sanchez joked.

Sanchez mentioned that his billet family was big into hockey and got him to try on skates to play the sport with the family. 

"Me and my best friend who also played in the Academy and now he's a coach, Fernando Fuentes. We actually started playing women's shinny with my billet. We played with her friends. There was actually once they needed a goalie for their rec league, and I was actually the goalie for the team. Honestly, I wasn't a bad goalie. I was catching everything with the goalie glove, if they shot through the five-hole, it was a goal," he said.

Sanchez has fallen in love with hockey after being introduced to it by his billet family. He has gone to some Flames games mentioning former players Johnny Gaudreau, Matthew Tkachuk and Noah Hanifin as those he remembers seeing live. He's also taken part in being a member of the Green Army cheering on the Okotoks Oilers. 

Ricky Sanchez swinging at an incoming pitch.Ricky Sanchez swinging at an incoming pitch.

Sanchez also lived in the USA playing college baseball. When asked if he likes Canada better than the States, he responded with, "It's a tough question, I obviously have a lot of friends down (in the USA) too. But I tell them Canada has my heart. I love Canada, I feel like it's literally my second home. I like Canada a lot better."

If you have attended a game recently, you know that Sanchez is a clear fan favourite with kids yelling his name when he's up to bat or fans complimenting him and his big smile. Even his billet family has heard people get excited when they find out Sanchez is staying at their place. He said with all the cheering it feels like he's back at home with his family coming to the games and getting "rowdy" in letting him know they are pulling for him.

He still gets to visit his family for about a month every year during Christmas and while he would like to spend more time with them, he knows to become a great baseball player, you have to put in the time. 

"This is the path I chose, and I do it for the game of baseball."

When he does go back to Mexico to see his family, he said one thing he loves is the cooking that comes from his grandmothers. Mexico is known for their tremendous food, but Sanchez said there is nothing like a meal cooked by his grandmas.

Ricky Sanchez (middle) with Nash Crowell (left) and Connor Crowson (right) with an Okotoks youth before the Prospects game.Ricky Sanchez (middle), Nash Crowell (left), and Connor Crowson (right) with an Okotoks youth before the Prospects game.

Being away from your family can be tough in the best of times but Sanchez has made the most of it and said that the friendships he's made through the sport have continued to grow his love for baseball.

"I have a lot of friends all over these three countries, Mexico, Canada, and then the United States too. It just feels like I'm just making my own big family. As the years keep going, I keep making more friends and I'm just extending my family," Sanchez said.

The Okotoks Dawgs are currently chasing the three-peat as league champions, something Sanchez is very familiar with as he was on the past two championship Dawgs teams. He explained how this group plans on executing that goal.

"We just got to play for each other, and I think we are doing a really good job. Sometimes we get up to a slow start because you are playing with different guys that you haven't played with before. I think we have done a pretty good job just playing for each other and becoming close with every single teammate we have," he said.

"Just play for each other, because the talent is there. I feel like the talent might be better than the past teams."

"It takes everybody to win a game, it's about the little things. Sometimes people just notice the home runs, batting average, and all the stats, if everybody just do the little things they are supposed to it's going to be pretty hard to beat us."

Ricky Sanchez celebrating after getting on base.Ricky Sanchez celebrating after getting on base.

Since being in Okotoks, Sanchez is trying to plan a trip with the team to Banff which is a place he loves to visit. He also mentioned one of his favourite places to see while in the country is Tim Hortons.

It's clear when you meet Sanchez that he is a very happy person, smiling from ear to ear and is an incredibly friendly face to run into.

"People have been telling me this, every time they come to the ballpark, they like having me around. No matter what I'm going through or what has been happening to me in those couple days, if we are at the field I'm always going to be smiling. Me and the trainer Savanah, it started with my brother, but we have a thing saying smiling is free. I'm a big team guy, you know I love all my teammates so if I can put a smile on their face, it makes me happy," he said.

"That's the biggest part too about baseball. Baseball is a mental game, if you aren't there mentally you are going to fail. Even the pros say in baseball you are going to fail more than you are going to succeed. So, it's a big thing to be mentally there."

He left a message for any player who wants to play baseball saying, don't let anyone tell you that you can't do it. 

10 Questions with Ricky Sanchez

What is your go-to cheat meal?

"I'm going to go with BarBurrito."

What is your guilty pleasure song?

"Unwritten by Natasha Bedingfield."

What is one thing you can't live without?

"My best friend"

Favourite TV show or movie?

"I'm going to go with Prison Break."

Would you rather live in a big city full of people or the mountains with no one in sight?

"Big city with a lot of people, I'm used to the big city."

Would you rather travel to the past or the future?

"You know what, I'm going to say the past, so I can change a couple things. The future is going to be there, and nobody knows what is going to happen."

Favourite baseball team and player growing up?

"Favourite team is the New York Yankees and favourite player has got to be Derek Jeter"

If I granted you one wish, what would you wish for?

"For my family to come up and watch me play baseball in Canada."

How many ballpark hot dogs can you eat in one sitting?

"Three or four, no more."

Who is one person you would or wish you could have met?

"Kobe Bryant"

Favourite sport other than baseball?

"I'm going to go with hockey"

Bonus question, defence or offense in baseball?

"Defence. Defence wins championships."