JUPITER, Fla. -- Here's the thing about Gaby Sanchez, the Cracker Jack Floridafirst baseman who pulled off the strange-but-true feat last summer of leading all NL rookies in hits, RBI and doubles, yet finished fourth in Rookie of the Year voting:
He's petrified of heights.
True story, even though he got some pretty good air while hitting .273 with a .341 on-base percentage, 19 homers and 85 RBI last summer.
The numbers themselves still weren't enough to divert much attention away from San Francisco's Buster Posey, who won the NL Rookie award. Or Atlanta's Jason Heyward, who was voted into the All-Star Game as a starter before having to take a pass with a thumb injury. Or even, for crying out loud, St. Louis starter Jaime Garcia, who finished third in the voting.
Hey, playing in Florida can be like playing in another country. Goes with the territory, like swamps and alligators.
"I don't think there's anything bad about being steady Eddie and producing," Sanchez says.
But in an indication that, just maybe, Sanchez isn't quite as under the radar as he once was as 2011 roars toward us, his Wikipedia page informs that, "in his free time, he enjoys skydiving."
"No," he says. "I'm really afraid of heights."
Somebody's messing with him.
"No way do I skydive," he says, shaking his head and chuckling. "The only way I'd do that is if somebody got me up in the air, blindfolded and in a harness, and then told me to step out the door because we're going bike riding. They couldn't pay me enough to do that."
And clearly, they mess with him because they care.
"My first professional roommate," says left fielder Logan Morrison, another marquee young talent in a clubhouse stocked with it. "Great roommate. He showed me the ropes. We went to movies, went to the mall. I didn't have a car then, I was only 18."
"He's a really good player," says Hanley Ramirez, closest thing to a superstar in this Marlins clubhouse. "He keeps learning every day. And he keeps working to get better. It's what you look for."
At 27 -- old for a rookie, old for a Marlin, but still young enough to keep raising that career-arc to even greater heights -- Sanchez is in the perfect place at the perfect time. He's got a firm foothold in the major leagues, and he's on the ground in South Florida. He was born here. Raised here. Attended high school here before moving on the play college ball at the University of Miami.
Drafted as a third baseman and experimented with in the outfield, Sanchez finally settled in at first base and, in his first full big league season, played in 151 games and came to the plate a whopping 643 times.
Especially impressive were the on-base percentage, doubles (37) and grind-it-out at-bats.
"Definitely," Marlins manager Edwin Rodriguez says. "His mental toughness. Even if he knows something is not working on a particular day, he'll adjust his swing. He handles tough times very well."
"He's not scared to strike out," Ramirez says of his trademark tough at-bats. "That's what happens when you're not scared to strike out."
Also eye-opening was the way he intercepted Washington's Nyjer Morgan last September when Morgan charged the mound after Chris Volstad threw a pitch behind Morgan. Showing sprinter's speed and exquisite reflexes, Sanchez reached the mound a split-second after Morgan and floored him with a forearm shiver.
That alone won him friends for life in the Florida clubhouse, and though the Marlins have since moved on to other topics, Sanchez remains a cult hero among fans.
"Every single time somebody sees me, that's all they mention," he says. "It's crazy. It doesn't matter what kind of year you have, they mention that one thing."
But everybody knows, if Sanchez wasn't bringing it in other areas, he wouldn't be around very long for fans to ask him about it.
Among other things, he's working hard on his defense this spring with infield coach Perry Hill, one of the best in the business. Positioning, footwork, everything.
Offensively, Sanchez is hopeful of even bigger things now that he's been around the track once and has a working knowledge of NL pitchers. To that degree, he also worked hard on his strength over the winter after fatigue slowed him late and he hit only .212 with a .292 on-base percentage in September.
"It was a quick season," he says. "It felt like it happened in a blur.
"It was exciting to get to play every day, and then all of a sudden there are only two months left and you're like, 'Wow, this is flying.'"
Just don't expect him to look down. There will be no skydiving, whatever heights he reaches.
"I like to fish, and go to movies," he says. "Hang out with my wife. That's about it.