The last time Alex Sanabia attended a game at Petco Park as a fan, he was a baby-faced senior at nearby Castle Park in Chula Vista, a short 15-minute drive south.
Sanabia, drafted by the Marlins in the 32nd round that June, said he sat in the left-field balcony seats of the Western Metal Supply Company with his girlfriend and her parents. His future was on his mind.
“In my head I was going, ‘I’m going to pitch here one day,’ ” said Sanabia, who recalled the story Monday, 24 hours before making his first career start back home.
“Seven years later it’s a dream come true. I’m getting goose bumps just saying it.”
Sanabia, 24, isn’t sure what happened to his old girlfriend. But he does recognize and remember the long, strange road he has taken to get to Tuesday.
In 2006, there were 964 players taken in front of him. He was the 12th pitcher the Marlins took in that draft alone, but the only one to reach the majors.
After getting his first taste of the majors three years ago because former first-round pick Chris Volstad was struggling (Sanabia went 5-2 with a 3.66 ERA in 12 starts), the 6-2, 210-pound right-hander battled injuries in 2011 and 2012 in the minors and seemed a long-shot to make the Marlins’ Opening Day roster this spring.
But then at the end of March, right-handers Nathan Eovaldi and Henderson Alvarez went down with injuries just before the start of the season. Sanabia and prized rookie Jose Fernandez were brought up from the minors to help fill those holes.
About three or four games into the season, Sanabia admitted, he started calculating whether he would make a start in his hometown. He has been counting down the days ever since. He said he collected about 31 tickets for family members and friends to watch him pitch Tuesday.
“When I came here with the Marlins in 2010, I didn’t think it was three years before I would be back,” Sanabia said. “I pitched at Dodger Stadium since then, had my parents, brother and friends there. But it’s not going to compare to [Tuesday]. I’m even a little nervous, but not too much.”
Sanabia, who has stayed in the Marlins’ team hotel but also has made sure to head home for meals since the team has been in town, could use a lift. He has lost each of his past three starts, giving up six hits in each and a combined 10 earned runs over 18 2/3 innings.
A Mariners fan growing up, Sanabia said he never really rooted for the Padres. He said he bought a No. 28 Sanabia Marlins jersey for his mother, nephew and friend who will be at Tuesday’s game. He expects to have a large cheering section on his side.
“I went over to my mom’s to have breakfast [Monday],” Sanabia said. “Can’t miss the home cooking. She made chilaquiles. It’s a deep-fried tortilla with tomato sauce, cheese and sour cream … got to take advantage.”
Manager Mike Redmond said Sanabia (2-4, 4.67) has done what the Marlins have asked of him so far this season.
“It’s a big day for a guy when you come home as a player and your family and friends get to see you,” Redmond said. “I just hope he goes out there and continues to do what he’s been doing. He’s been doing a great job keeping us in games. Hopefully he’ll continue that.”