Felix with his wife and daughter

Felix Sanchez

Greenville Technical College

"Sometimes you’ve got to jump from the third row. If you want something in life, you’ve got to go get it."

From growing up poor in the Dominican Republic to playing Major League Baseball for the Boston Red Sox… from learning English with first graders to graduating from Greenville Tech… from having parents who sacrificed so much for him to becoming a parent himself… Felix Sanchez has a whirlwind of a story!

Tell us about your childhood and youth in the Dominican Republic.

When I was little, my mom was a house mom and my dad was a taxi driver. Together, they raised six kids – me and my five sisters. A taxi driver’s income in the Dominican Republic is not much. They had to sacrifice a lot to get money to the house to buy food and supplements and goods.

When I was three years old, they used to take me to a baseball field. They said they were taking me there for training, but it was more like daycare. In the beginning, I didn’t really like baseball. But later, I kind of liked it. So I started playing, from catcher to pitcher to different positions. As I grew up, I started to gain a lot of ability for the game.

When I was 13, people started asking me, “Would you like to play baseball on another level?” And I said, “Sure! I would love to do that.” So I started training with guys who were 16 and 17 years old. I developed myself by getting their experience and knowledge, and I was bright for the game.

Fifteen years old was when I started showing myself off to baseball scouts. But they couldn’t sign me until I turned sixteen. I made a lot of try-outs. The last one I did was with the Boston Red Sox, and they picked me. So I started going to their academy.

How did you balance baseball training with school?

I went to school every weekend. I don’t know what they call it here. It’s like high school, but it’s for people who cannot be in school every single day of the week.

My mom was actually there, taking classes herself. She was in the first grade of high school when I was in my last grade. So it was interesting because when I was going to lunch, my mom and me were hanging out together at the same school. She was trying to develop herself because she came from the country, from a little town named Villa Altagracia, and she grew up really poor.

But she wanted better for me, and she sacrificed for me to be able to have a baseball career. She used to buy me used baseball cleats and clothes to go to the stadium to practice. I used to pick up broken batting gloves and take them home and sew then with a needle and string to make it good for me to be able to use it. We had to take whatever was available.

I remember one time I failed one of my courses, and she was so mad! Out of me and my sisters, I was the only one to go to private school because of my sport. So my mom and dad had to sacrifice even more for me.

You signed with the Boston Red Sox in January of 2008, trained throughout that year, and came to the States in 2009.

Yes, I was a roadrunner! I used to make 5.9, 6.0 in the 60-yard – unbelievable speed. During that time, I was hitting decent. I played Rookie, A, AA, and AAA from 2009 to 2016. I got to a point where I could have kept playing independent baseball, but I decided to stop because I thought about my family back home. They needed my support. It was kind of hard for me to say, “Oh, I want to keep playing baseball.” For me, it was like being selfish. To support them, I needed to elevate myself up in another track of life.

And, despite a rocky start, you were able to do that at Greenville Tech by studying mechatronics.

At first, I didn’t know even know what mechatronics was. It seemed like some type of career that was very complicated. But an administrator recommended it, so I decided to try it.

I had to start at the very beginning, taking basic classes because the credits from my high school in the Dominican Republic didn’t help me score high in English and math. I placed in English 032 – a basic, basic English – and Math 100.

For me to be able to refresh all that, I sat in an afterschool program for kids in elementary school. Those kids had to think, What is this guy doing here?! But the only way you learn something in life is by becoming a kid again. Even the Bible says it! You’ve got to be willing to learn and open yourself up.

I did that for a couple of weeks, and I took the test again. But I placed at the same levels again. So I went to English as a Second Language classes for about a year.

After you got past the basics, was it still a constant struggle, or did things get easier?

The first time I had to read a schematic, I was lost, lost, lost. But my professor, Mr. Willie Thompson, was such a good help. And Mr. Raymond James actually got me through with a Spanish-speaker guide. That guide helped me navigate college – how to do things, where to go for help. If you need help with writing, go to the writing center. If you need help with math, there’s a math lab.

I also looked for Spanish speakers that were born here in America who knew English and Spanish. They guided me through. There’s a lot of people of different nationalities at Greenville Tech that can help you. There’s a lot of help online too – like the Brainfuse app.

I used all those resources. Later, I didn’t have to anymore. I had everything I needed.

It was also hard because, while you attended classes, you were working full-time, correct?

Yes. Going to class in the morning, working at the BMW manufacturing plant at night… I was always exhausted. Imagine working 10 hours, getting off, getting something to eat fast, then going to school for 2, 3, 4 hours, then going home to sleep for a few hours, then going back to work. My wife suffered that, and my little baby.

But my education helped me do my job. I’m in charge of the equipment that runs the line. I deal with conveyors, motors, lifts, axes, robotics. Mechatronics is a little bit of electricity, a little bit of hydraulics, a little bit of pneumatics – it’s a lot of stuff involved.

You have accomplished so very much. Is there one thing you’re most proud of?

I’m proud of baseball, and I worked hard for baseball. But I worked even harder for my career and family. I am most proud of those.

I love my wife. She’s been very good for me. In my hardest moments, she’s been there to support me in every single thing. And I love my daughter. I love to see her grow, to play with her. We are best friends right now!

What is the most important thing you want to teach your daughter?

It took me to grow to see the reality of what my parents sacrificed for me to be where I am. I want to give everything that I can to my daughter, but I also want to show her how to earn things, how to work for things. It’s not always easy. Sometimes you’ve got to jump from the third row. If you want something in life, you’ve got to go get it. And when you get it, you can’t be different with others. You can’t act better than them. I want to show her that even though she may feel like she is in a higher stage, she must still be humble if she wants to bring a positive impact.

See the WYFF News 4 feature on Felix