With the Cactus League in full swing and the Major League Baseball (MLB) season just around the corner, many forget that minor league players are working around the Valley to play on teams all over the country this summer, and the Valley’s own Adam Sonabend is one of them.
The minors start their regular season April 7, and players’ assignments can be up in the air till the last moment.
“You play and try to do whatever you can,” the catcher in the San Francisco Giants system tells Jewish News in a phone interview. “The last two days of spring training, they post the rosters of the Single-A team, the Double-A team, Triple-A team, and wherever your name is, that’s where you’re going to start the season at. ...
“I’m going to end up somewhere. Trying to figure that out will give you a headache. There are so many things to consider and so many things that are out of your control. It’s tough not to think about that but, for your own sanity, you can’t.”
Instead, he focuses on improving his skills and taking every opportunity offered to him. His story is one of persistence. Sonabend, who played baseball at Desert Mountain High School in Scottsdale, was eligible for the MLB draft four times and was not drafted by a team, but here he is, a free agent in the Giants organization.
He was eligible the first time upon graduating from high school; the second time, he was eligible as a sophomore at Mesa Community College; the third and fourth times came at the end of his junior and senior years at Eastern Michigan University. (He played his first year of college ball at Kansas State University, but was not draft-eligible in that year.)
“I knew I could play, and I wanted to explore every opportunity I could, even though I’d kind of been told no four times,” he says. “I wasn’t ready to hang it up yet. My parents were on board. ... They did everything they could to help me do what I needed to do, and I got an opportunity to play.”
Sonabend contacted one of his former coaches, Dave Hilton, who had spent some time as a San Diego Padres player and coached with the Milwaukee Brewers.
“After I didn’t get drafted, I called him and I basically asked him to help, to reach out to people if he could and put in a good word for me,” Sonabend says. That contact led to him catching in the bullpen for the Giants’ Arizona Rookie League team in the summer of 2014. “That was my job for the last two months of the season in the [league], which is the lowest level of the minor leagues,” he says. He stresses that even though he wore the team uniform, he was an employee, but not a player.
When that season ended, he was asked to catch bullpen sessions in a month-long camp for mostly younger players.
“Whenever I could, I’d try to sneak into a batting practice group or ask, ‘Hey! Can I hit today?’ ” he says. “I think I made it pretty clear that I wanted to play. I was always trying to stick my nose in it and try to get in, and they were awesome about it. They never really told me, ‘No.’ They let me jump in, and I think they saw that I can play, and that I had some ability.”
About halfway through the camp, “They brought me in one morning and offered me a contract, and that was that,” he says. That was in September 2014.
Sonabend, who had his bar mitzvah at Temple Chai, is the son of Benita and Isy Sonabend of Scottsdale. He says that his father, who comes from Montreal, encouraged him to play hockey.
“I started playing hockey before I started playing baseball,” he says. “I think my dad had me on skates when I was 4.”
He first played T-ball at about age 6 and was hooked. (He played both hockey and baseball till his last year of high school.)
Asked why it hooked him, he says, “[Baseball] was just always something I loved to do. I always loved to be out on the field. I felt like I was good. ... I guess it was never really a question for me. That was just always what I’ve done.”