Blue Jay Aaron Sanchez enjoys the ride on Kawhi Leonard’s flight path

It was a Sunday afternoon throughout the Christmas holidays in Aaron Sanchez’s highschool years when the future Blue Jays starter piled right into a automotive along with his dad, Mike Shipley, for a 90-minute drive south from their dwelling in Barstow, Calif. to Riverside — to see a basketball phenom they’d heard was tearing it up at Martin Luther King High.

“He was just the talk of the town,” Sanchez stated. “MaxPreps (a high school sports content aggregator) was a big deal back then … and he was all over MaxPreps. He was a need-to-see type player.”

That participant? Kawhi Leonard.

About a decade later, Sanchez watched Leonard lead the Raptors to the NBA championship and hoist his NBA Finals MVP trophy at an enormous parade via downtown Toronto.

“It gives me chills talking about it now,” Sanchez stated final week about the full-circle second. “It’s surreal. It’s cool.”

Growing up in California, basketball was the six-foot-four Sanchez’s favorite sport. A 12 months youthful than Leonard, now 27, he was wowed by the small ahead who had already dedicated to San Diego State University by the time Sanchez watched from the stands.

“It’s like: Man, this is what a real Division I player looks like,” Sanchez recalled.

Sanchez stated he stored up with Leonard’s progress a bit as he began his personal profession, after the Jays made him the 34th choose in the 2010 draft. He was in the minors whereas Leonard spent two seasons at San Diego State earlier than he was drafted 15th by the Indiana Pacers in 2011, then traded that evening to the San Antonio Spurs as a part of a package deal for George Hill.

Sanchez made his big-league debut a few month after Leonard lifted his first championship trophy, and received his first NBA Finals MVP, with the Spurs in 2014.

While the Blue Jay has been a fan of Leonard’s for years, his ideas went to DeMar DeRozan when he first heard about the blockbuster deal that noticed the all-stars commerce locations final July.

“It was cool. You’re getting a top-five player in the NBA, I knew that,” Sanchez stated. “But it sucks to see a guy (DeRozan) that was iconic to the organization get shipped like that.”

Watching Leonard’s comeback, although, after taking part in simply 9 video games in his remaining season with the Spurs due to a quadriceps harm, resonated with Sanchez, who has battled accidents of his personal for greater than two seasons.

“Especially with everything he had to deal with his last year in San Antonio and people were kind of questioning him, for him to go out there and do what he did was unbelievable,” stated Sanchez, scheduled to start out Monday evening’s sequence opener in opposition to the Yankees in New York.

Sanchez was amongst the million-plus who lined the streets of Toronto final Monday to have fun the Raptors’ victory. Sanchez introduced his toddler son A.J. to see Leonard — at a really totally different place in his life than when Sanchez and his dad first laid eyes on him in California.

The Blue Jay shot cellphone video of Leonard lifting his second NBA Finals MVP trophy to loud cheers, his son taking all of it in from a shoulder-height perch above many in the crowd.

Sanchez is aware of how a successful group can encourage Canadian youth, having been a part of the Jays’ runs to the American League Championship Series in 2015 and 2016. He figures Leonard is feeling what Sanchez felt just a few years in the past — after which some.

“Playing in front of a whole country … I think people don’t really understand that until you actually put the uniform on and go out there and play. Then it really kind of hits home,” Sanchez stated.

“To have that kind of impact on young kids across the whole country, and him being the forefront of it, it’s cool.”

Sanchez — a Lakers fan rising up — says he enjoys taking part in on the East Coast, even when it’s removed from family members. Trips dwelling will be lengthy, however the time change permits him to wind down after a recreation by chatting with household and pals who’re three hours behind.

As a fan, he hopes Leonard, who took in a Jays recreation final Thursday and obtained a standing ovation, stays in Toronto. But as an athlete, Sanchez additionally understands that Leonard has earned the proper to go wherever he desires as a free agent — even to the Lakers’ rivals, the Los Angeles Clippers, as has been speculated.

“He’s put his time in, he’s paid his dues and he’s finally getting an opportunity to go where he wants to go and it’s his choice,” stated Sanchez, eligible without spending a dime company after subsequent season. “Whatever that is for him and his family, you can’t do anything but respect those decisions. He came here and did what he was supposed to do. He’ll be a god here forever, so it’s win-win for him.”

Laura Armstrong is a sports activities reporter based mostly in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter: @lauraarmy

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