Thirteen years. That’s how long Anibal Sanchez has been in the United States, and on Friday, he and 122 others raised their right hand and officially became legal citizens of this country. In the city of Oakland Park, Fla., near Lauderdale, Sanchez led the group of people from “more than 20 countries” in reciting the pledge of allegiance.
"I feel great, I feel great, it's another goal in my life, it's another dream come true," Sanchez told NBC Miami.
Sanchez signed with the Boston Red Sox in 2001 as an international free agent at 16 years old. After two years with the Venezuela Summer League and a missed 2003 due to an injury requiring surgery, he came to the States in 2004. Two years later, he would make his major league debut and played for the Marlins for six and a half years.
The last two years haven’t been kind to Sanchez, and he’s dealt with some pitching demons that have plagued his performance. Injuries have sidelined him and he hasn’t been the same since the 2014 season. Heading into 2017 and in his final contract year with the Tigers, his ability to pitch effectively will be under scrutiny.
Sanchez has spent nearly half of his life going through proper channels to become a legal resident, regardless of his status in the baseball world. He resides in Coral Gables, Fla. with his wife (Ana) and their daughter (Annabella) during the offseason. However, the family is closely involved in helping the local Tigers community throughout the year.
In 2015, he and his wife launched a charity organization called Sanchez’s Little Smiles to help families with medical needs and other issues. Sanchez’s daughter — his first child from his first marriage, Alan, died from dengue virus on Christmas Day in 2007 after going home to Venezuela for the holidays — was born with a cleft palate and lip. For them, establishing the charity was a way of improving their American dream before citizenship had ever become official, and getting past a lot of grief.
“People, they want to come here and they want to make a great future and have the opportunity [for] the American dream,” Sanchez said about those coming to the States, regardless of the current political spectrum. He added that he’s especially looking forward to voting in future elections.
Sanchez becoming a U.S. citizen happens at a time when the citizenship process is under scrutiny by the government. The U.S. could further crack down on immigration on the whole, as well as from specific countries. While countries in South America don’t typically face the level of obstacles that those in the Middle East do, it still puts Sanchez’s accomplishment into perspective.