Brandon Sandoval, a 2013 graduate of Fallbrook High School, was hiking Monserate Mountain June 14 when he received a phone call that suddenly made him feel as if he was on top of the world.
A star outfielder on baseball teams at both Fallbrook High and Vanguard University, Sandoval answered a call from Ben Diggins, a professional baseball scout who informed him that he had just been drafted by the Los Angeles Angels.
Sandoval and his mother, Shelley Sandoval, had been staring at the draft ticker on the Major League Baseball website, MLB.com, for nearly two hours that morning before Brandon simply couldn’t take it anymore.
“I went for a hike,” said Sandoval. “I just wanted to get out of the house because I was looking at my computer – at that ticker – and just looking at names go by and I was just like, wow, I’m going crazy doing this.”
So Sandoval hit the mountain for some training and to clear his head. A little later came the phone call that he had dreamed about since Fallbrook Little League.
“I’ve been playing baseball my whole life and it’s been a progressive dream,” said Sandoval. “I’ve always been in love with the game and in high school I realized that I had the potential to take it to the next level (college ball). In college, it was realizing I had the potential to take it to the next level to pro ball.”
That “potential” became reality when the Angels selected Sandoval in the 27th round of the 2017 Major League Baseball draft, triggering a flood of emotions for Sandoval and his family.
“It was pretty surreal the day I got drafted,” said Sandoval. “My mom called me when I’m on the mountain and she’s crying. I get back to my house and my dad’s there and that was the first time I’ve ever seen him really show any kind of emotion. He’s usually a pretty cool dude but he definitely shed a couple tears. That was pretty awesome.”
Asael Sandoval, Brandon’s father, played volleyball for the Mexican national team and was instrumental in molding Brandon into an athlete.
“When I was younger he was definitely kind of hard on me,” said Brandon of his father. “He pushed me every single day to practice and get in the (batting) cage and take swings, even on days I didn’t want to do it. He just kind of gave me that work ethic from the start.”
Brandon said once he got to high school, his father backed away a bit.
“My freshman year, he kind of just went hands off,” said Sandoval. “That was pretty much it. It was on me. I think that was definitely a good thing because I think parents can ride their kids too much in high school, and at that age, that can drive them away from the sport a little bit. So I think my dad instilled that work ethic in me from the start and then just kind of let me do my thing. I think that was the best thing he could have done.”
Asael Sandoval’s actions obviously worked as his son went on to enjoy great success at both Fallbrook High, where he batted .455 his senior season while earning all-league honors, and Vanguard, where he was a three-time All-Golden State Athletic Conference honoree and a two-time Rawlings Gold Glove Team choice. He hit .403 with eight homers, 49 runs batted in and 33 stolen bases as Vanguard’s leadoff man in 2017.
“Brandon is a gifted athlete and competitor,” said Rob Pegg, head baseball coach at Vanguard. “He has great speed, strength and eye hand coordination. He was a true leader for four years. He will be greatly missed. You don’t just replace a Brandon Sandoval.”
Pegg, along with Fallbrook High baseball coaches Mark DiBenedetti and Pat Walker, were among the many thrilled to hear that Sandoval had been drafted.
“After I got the call (from Diggins), the next thing I know is my phone is just blowing up – everybody texting me and calling me,” said Sandoval. “It was pretty cool.”
Sandoval and his family didn’t have much time to celebrate as later that evening Diggins called again to tell Sandoval he was to catch a noon flight the following day from San Diego to Utah. The Angels had assigned Sandoval to the Orem Owlz of the Pioneer League.
Orem, which in 2014 had a population of 91,781, is located approximately 45 miles south of Salt Lake City and uses the slogan “Family City USA.”
“I’d never heard of Orem before,” said Sandoval. “It’s a pretty cool town. It kind of has that Fallbrook feel a little bit. It’s a small town but at the same time it’s kind of big and pretty urbanized. There’s a lot of stuff to do in the city, so that’s cool.”
In the minor leagues, cities with teams often have “host families” that welcome ballplayers into their homes for the season. Sandoval said he has landed in a good spot.
“I’m with this super-nice family,” said Sandoval. “They have a daughter and a son and everyone loves baseball in this house, so, yeah, it’s pretty cool.”
The Orem Owlz began their season June 19 with Sandoval starting in right field. Before an on opening-day crowd of 3,222, Sandoval punched a base hit through the infield in his first professional at bat. He would finish the day 2-for-4 with a walk and one run batted in.
“It was a changeup that he (the pitcher) hung and I smacked it past the shortstop,” said Sandoval of his first hit. “It felt good.”
Sandoval had a very good game June 23 when Orem traveled to Idaho Falls as he went 4-for-5 with a triple. He batted in two runs and scored three runs.
“I’m feeling pretty good,” said Sandoval when asked how he was adjusting to professional baseball. “I’m getting the feel for it still. Obviously, the game’s a lot faster than it was in college and high school. So, I’m just kind of getting used to that and getting used to getting to the field every single day and putting in work and playing the games at night and hoping for the best results.”
Sandoval, who has played all three outfield positions for the Owlz and has been a designated hitter, appears to be adjusting just fine. Through June 30, he was hitting .308 with two doubles and a triple. He had drawn five walks, driven in seven runs and scored nine runs.
Shelley Sandoval recently traveled to Orem to watch her son play. Asael will be making a trip in August to do the same.
“We’re just really proud of him,” said Shelley Sandoval. “Very proud of him. He worked very hard for this.”
Brandon Sandoval is thankful that he was able to reward his parents’ faith in him.
“It makes me feel like all that hard work paid off for my parents because of all that they have done for me – taking me to practice and sacrificing all that money for all the gear I needed,” said Brandon Sandoval. “I mean, it was pretty cool to have it all payoff on one day.”