Javi Sanchez leaves LSU; Andy Cannizaro likely to replace him _lowres

Advocate file photo by CATHERINE THRELKELD --Hitting coach Javi Sanchez is leaving LSU for other opportunities.

They say baseball is a way of life.

But for Javi Sanchez, LSU’s 32-year-old hitting coach and recruiting coordinator, baseball began to consume his days entirely, and he felt it was time to leave the game.

Coach Paul Mainieri announced Wednesday that Sanchez left the team after seven seasons to “pursue other professional opportunities.”

Former Tulane star and major league shortstop Andy Cannizaro is likely to replace Sanchez, sources close to the program said. Cannizaro, a 35-year-old from Mandeville who’s currently a scout for the New York Yankees, last played in the majors in 2008 with the Tampa Bay Rays.

Sanchez said he will be moving back to his hometown of Miami but is unsure of the plan moving forward.

That said, citing how much time he spends away from wife Michelle and daughter Valentina, he won’t be returning to the diamond anytime soon.

“Even if I would have gotten offered a head coaching job back home, I’ve realized that this is an industry where I no longer aspire to be a head coach,” he said. “It was just one too many days of me leaving the house with my child being asleep, and then me getting home late at night and my child being asleep.”

Sanchez and Mainieri discussed the hitting coach leaving in the past few weeks, but both wanted to wait to announce the move. They have a relationship dating to 2002, when Sanchez helped lead Mainieri’s Notre Dame squad to the College World Series as the starting shortstop.

“He’s provided a ton of support for me in my decision,” Sanchez said. “When all this was happening, his priority was me. That means a lot, and it’s a testament to our relationship.”

To ensure a smooth transition, Sanchez said he intends to stay with the program a little while longer, though he is unsure when he will leave for good.

Sanchez said he feels he’s leaving on a positive note.

“My job every day was to go out and be a part of coach Mainieri’s legacy,” he said. “My job was always just to come in and hold up my end of the recruiting to make sure that I was putting the program in a position to be successful.”

LSU’s recruiting classes have consistently put the Tigers in the upper echelon of the Southeastern Conference West. And during his tenure, Sanchez developed a number of hitters who eventually found themselves at the pro level, notably catcher Micah Gibbs, outfielder Jared Mitchell, second baseman DJ LeMahieu and infielder Ryan Schimpf — all of whom were taken in the first five rounds of the MLB draft in 2008 or 2009.

Players such as Kevin Gausman, Ryan Eades and Alex Bregman also were brought in during Sanchez’s tenure.

Former LSU outfielder Raph Rhymes — now with the West Michigan Whitecaps, the Detroit Tigers’ affiliate in the Single-A Midwest League — said meeting Sanchez was a large factor in his decision to transfer from LSU-Eunice before his sophomore season. Under Sanchez’s guidance, Rhymes posted a .373 career batting average with the Tigers, including a nation-leading .431 mark in 2012.

“I got to know Javi when I walked on the year before, and I knew he was a person I’d like to be around and a coach that could definitely help me,” Rhymes said. “Him being there definitely influenced my decision to go (to LSU).”

Rhymes said Sanchez’s personality was always inviting, and that made the dugout atmosphere an enjoyable one.

“He was awesome to be around,” Rhymes said. “He was always having a good time, and he made it easy to play and get after it. He’s a lot of fun to be around, and he’s a big influence on myself.”

The 2014 recruiting class, highlighted by 6-foot-2 left-hander Mac Marshall, was Sanchez’s latest project, but he doesn’t believe his departure from the program will affect the status of any Tigers commitments.

“At the end of the day, they’re committing to coach Mainieri and LSU,” Sanchez said. “And they have to have the faith and loyalty in him that he’s going to bring in a guy who’s going to be ready to fill my shoes and take this program to the next level.”