Journey to the Majors: A mom's perspective

May 9th, 2021

Something seemed off.

Daisy Sandlin was on a walk with one of her friends when she realized she had a missed call from her son, Nick. “He never calls me at this time,” she told her friend. She immediately called him back, but he didn’t answer. So, Daisy got a hold of her husband and couldn't believe what she heard.

It’s the news every parent of a professional baseball player waits to hear, after little Nick Sandlin, who started playing baseball at age 4, had his sights set on one thing: Becoming a big leaguer.

“He didn’t really talk about it,” Daisy said, “but it was, ‘That’s what I want to do. I want to play baseball.’”

And now, his dreams have finally come true.

We all know at this point that the Indians’ No. 30 prospect (according to MLB Pipeline) didn’t have the easiest journey to the Majors. But so often are experiences easier to stomach when you’re the person in control. What’s it like having to sit back and go through the peaks and valleys as a mother?

High school and college

Daisy knew her son was a great player, though she joked every parent thinks that about their kid. She loved watching him as a middle infielder and noted that he had a cannon for an arm. But then, he started to get more serious about pitching, and as a junior, he made the transition into being a sidearmer.

“When he first started it, he was really low,” Daisy said. “Like his knuckles were scraping the ground. He was really low. And then he just worked on all the different angles. It just took off.”

His brand new pitching style earned him a spot on Southern Mississippi’s roster, and thanks to his recommendation, his coaches also added his older brother Jake, who was a fifth-year senior at Georgia College, to fill their vacancy in center field.

“They played together for the first time,” Daisy said. “It was amazing. We felt like we had to go every weekend because they were together.”

And so began Daisy and John’s eight-hour trek to every home game, plus however many hours it’d take them to get to every away game. But this travel schedule was the cause of them having to be apart from their son the day he was drafted.

Draft night

The Sandlins were racing back to their house to be home in time to hear their son’s name announced as a professional baseball player for the first time. Daisy and her husband, John, had been in Arkansas watching Sandlin play in the Fayetteville Regional in the NCAA Tournament. They were driving back to their house in Augusta, Ga., as Sandlin was on the bus back to Southern Miss. After they made it home, they waited up until midnight and Sandlin still hadn’t received a call. So, Daisy and John got into bed with their volume set on high on their cell phones. Not even five minutes later, they got the news that he had been selected by the Indians in the second round.

“It was surreal. Takes a couple days to settle in. But it was awesome,” Daisy said. “I think we were all up to like 2 a.m. or something.”

The surgery and the heart attack

Sandlin’s story has been told enough that many know he had to get surgery for a stress fracture in his right forearm in August 2019. But not many know what happened just before he boarded his flight to New York for the procedure.

Sandlin was scheduled to fly out on a Monday morning, but on Sunday night, his dad suffered a heart attack.

“Nick missed his flight. We were in the emergency room,” Daisy said. “It was all just crazy.”

Thankfully, John was in decent enough shape for Sandlin to feel comfortable to head to New York on Tuesday, but Daisy had to stay back in Georgia to take care of her husband. So, Sandlin boarded his flight, had his surgery – in which he received a plate and six screws – and came back home.

“It was a little stressful, but I said my prayers, I put it in God’s hands and I said it’s gonna be OK,” Daisy said. “John got out of the hospital and then Nick came home and he was all bandaged up. He was recovering, John was recovering and I was like OK Nurse Daisy.”

And one thing Nurse Daisy was sure to do was to find the positive out of the situation.

“That was a tough moment,” Daisy said. “We were like ‘That’s gonna slow you down, but that’s OK. They can fix it. It’s not Tommy John. It’s not career-ending or anything like that.’”

The return

After being sidelined for the second half of the ’19 season, Sandlin learned he’d have to do the majority of his rehab from home after Spring Training 2020 was shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It was different, and he had to get creative, but Sandlin didn’t allow the time off to slow down his progression.

“He worked out in our garage,” Daisy said. “My husband has a Trans Am in there and he backed it out and put it in the driveway and put a cover on it and the garage was his workout space. ... It was awesome as a parent to see he had that work ethic and he didn’t just sit back and think it’ll be alright. He didn’t. And it paid off.“

The call

April 28, 2021, was the day it all truly paid off.

Daisy couldn’t get in contact with her son after she saw the missed call, but her husband brought her up to speed.

“I said, ‘Nick called me, did you talk to him? [John] said, ‘Yeah! They called him up!’” Daisy said. “I mean I was walking with my girlfriend and I said, ‘Oh my God, I’m not coming to work tomorrow. We got to go.’”

They arranged their travel to get to Chicago two days later to be in the stands for Sandlin’s first MLB game. They didn’t know when he’d make his debut, but they were determined to not miss it. Sandlin’s girlfriend got a flight scheduled, and Daisy and John got their oldest son on a flight to Chicago so they all could be in attendance. Sandlin didn’t pitch in Friday’s game, but on Saturday, they kept a close eye on him in the bullpen.

“I mean, his girlfriend was there and she has way better eyesight than I do,” Daisy joked. “And she was like, ‘He got up. He’s stretching. He’s doing this. He’s doing that.’ She was telling us every move.”

Then, the moment they had been waiting for finally happened when the door to the bullpen flung open and Sandlin came trotting out.

He worked a hitless frame with a strikeout to set quite an impressive tone to his career. He sent his mom home with four game balls and is mailing her the lineup card that was signed by the team to forever remember that special moment they were all able to share together.

Not only has he made it to the Majors, but he’s given the Indians every reason to hold on to him. In three appearances so far, he has yet to permit a run, hit or walk with four strikeouts in 4 1/3 innings.

Because of that, this Mother’s Day will be unlike any other for Daisy, who will be able to have her son’s big league game on television, as the Indians and Reds wrap up a three-game series at Progressive Field.

“I think every parent, their dream is to see their kids’ dreams come true,” Daisy said. “That was his dream and that was my dream to see his come true. So when that happens, it’s like OK everything is perfect in the universe.”