DELAND, Fla. – Student. Athlete. Husband. Father. Part-time care-giver.
Any one of these roles is enough of a challenge. Trying to balance them all would appear to be an almost impossible task for most people.
Not so for Lipscomb shortstop Aaron Sandoval. He just smiles and gives thanks for his wife, Christina; his son, Alias; his parents and his teammates and coaches who have always been available to help him.
“Christina works hard to try to make sure we are taken care of and that we have everything,” Sandoval said. “It is always helpful when you have a coach that supports you and parents and family that support you.
“I always try to do as much as I can. We try to even it out and make sure one is not working harder than the other. She is a great mom. She is always working hard and doing everything she can to make sure he is happy and to make sure I have everything I need.”
For the past two years at Lipscomb, life has been busy for Sandoval, a psychology major. Alias (pronounced A-lee-us) will be 2 in July. Christina works as a dental assistant. Somehow they make it all work.
“Aaron has done it and he has done it with flying colors,” LU coach Jeff Forehand said. “He is not the normal college student. But he and Christina have figured out a way to make ends meet, raise their son and for Aaron to get his school work done and play baseball at the highest level.
“As I told his father, Aaron has been raised the right way. Christina is the best. She has supported him and allowed him to chase his dream and get an education. They support each other. It has really been a cool thing to watch Alias the past two years. It is really a phenomenal story.”
People who care
Sandoval is from Albuquerque, N.M. (he admits he had trouble spelling it in school). He played junior college baseball for Otero Community College in La Junta, Colo.
“It was tough to move here, but I felt like it was a little bit easier with my wife and son because I had people that I knew,” Sandoval said. “But I have become really close with a lot of the players and a lot of other people here. It has been a good experience for me. I have gained more people as part of my family by being here.”
Sometimes his teammates have served as baby sitters for Alias. They can sometimes be seen walking with the little boy around campus while Sandoval is in class.
“A few players have been baby sitters like Noah Chandler and Jordan Zelhart,” Sandoval said. “It is crazy how much people will do for you if they care about you.
“During finals a few of the volleyball players were able to watch him. Getting to know people and having people willing to help us and give that extra hand is nice. In case there is an emergency we have people we can call.”
A versatile life
Sandoval’s life off the field is one of versatility. And on the baseball field this season he had to show his versatility as player. Signed two years ago as a shortstop, Sandoval has been full circle this season playing one game at second base, 10 at third, four at first base, four as designated hitter and 35 at shortstop.
“He is a smart, heady player who can play anywhere,” Forehand said. “He has great hands and great hand-eye coordination.”
Second base was an experience Sandoval would like to forget. Playing third base earned him the nickname “Panda” after Pablo Sandoval, the third baseman for the San Francisco Giants known as “Kung Fu Panda”.
“Second base was the toughest,” Sandoval said. “I had a hard time adjusting to it. Third base and first base were my favorites other than shortstop.
“I was willing to be where I had to be as long as I could play. Not everybody can say they have played in Division I.”
He has closed out the season playing shortstop. Sandoval leads the team in both games played and games started with 54. He is first in hits with 58 and in RBI with 34. He is tied for second in doubles with 10. He is also tied for second in runs with 32. He is batting .282 heading into the tournament.
“We knew he was a good hitter coming in,” Forehand said. “He has been a steady hitter in the middle of our order for two years.”
Former Lipscomb assistant coach Chris Collins first saw Sandoval playing for a Colorado all-star team in a junior college tournament in Arizona. He quickly informed LU coach Jeff Forehand that he found the team’s next shortstop.
Forehand admits that when it was discovered that Sandoval was married his enthusiasm for the possible new recruit waned a bit. Forehand knew it would be tough for any player to move so far away from home, but he felt like it would be much more difficult for a player to make such a move with his family in tow.
But when Sandoval and his family arrived at Lipscomb Forehand soon realized any concerns he might have had were unfounded. Forehand and the rest of the coaching staff realized that Sandoval’s challenges off the field were different than those of most players. Sandoval does not use marriage and fatherhood as excuses, even though he occasionally has to be late for practice.
“Sometimes a babysitter showed up late,” Sandoval said. “But I always tried to get to workouts and get everything done.
“I don’t ask for extra things. I don’t make excuses because of my son. It was my choice to have a son. It is a blessing, but it is a different challenge too at the same time. I would never change anything in the situation. It is nice to come home and see him smile and see that my wife is happy.”
Giving a helping hand
Sandoval also works part-time with a veteran living in the Green Hills area who was hurt during military training and is paralyzed from the neck down due to a broken neck.
“I help him get ready for bed or help him get dressed in the morning,” Sandoval said. “Sometimes he will call me in the middle of the night because he needs help. Before the start of the season I worked with him on Monday, Tuesday and Saturday. Now I work with him on Monday nights and sometimes on Saturday night or Sunday mornings. He pays me, but I see him as a friend and not as a boss.”
Sandoval and his teammates are in Deland, Fla., this week for the Atlantic Sun Conference Championship. The Bisons, the No. 6 seed, will face North Florida, the No. 3 seed, at 7:15 Wednesday night at Stetson’s Melching Field at Conrad Park. The double-elimination, eight-team tournament, ends Sunday with the champion earning the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
The Bisons have finished the season strong, winning eight of their last nine conference games. Sandoval is confident that the Purple and Gold will continue to play at a highly-competitive level in the tournament.
“Halfway through the season we were kind of nervous because we hadn’t been hitting well and our pitching wasn’t doing well,” Sandoval said. “Overall, we weren’t clicking. We talked as seniors and said we have to do anything we can to try and figure this out.
“Towards the end of the season everybody stepped it up a little bit. It is not who did the best during the season, but who comes in hot during the tournament. We have that feeling right now that if you are going to beat us you are going to have a hard time doing it. We are on fire right now. We just have to keep rolling into the tournament.”
Sandoval is on track to finish his degree this year. His plan is work as a policeman. But he is also hopeful that he might get a call from a Major League team during the draft.
“I hope that it works out for me to continue playing baseball. That is everybody’s dream.
“It is always in the back of my mind. I have to do as good as I can during the tournament. But right now my main focus is to try to get an A-Sun Championship and move on to the NCAA Tournament.”