Sebastian Sanchez On Changing Middlebury’s Baseball Culture, The Split Second Decision That Changed His Senior Year, and Why Real Estate is Perfect for Athletes

Every athlete goes through adversity. It could be suffering an injury, losing the starting spot, or being part of a struggling team. It is because of this adversity that we develop the necessary skills and ability to succeed in pursuits outside of athletics. Sebastian Sanchez ’18 struggled through two seasons of injury and losing records before playing a pivotal role in changing the culture and trajectory of Middlebury Baseball. In this interview, he talks about responding to setbacks, the importance of time, and how Real Estate is really just a game of baseball.

—————

How would you reflect on you Baseball career at Middlebury? 

I am beyond grateful to have had the opportunity to play at the collegiate level. When I reflect on my Middlebury baseball career, it was undoubtedly a roller coaster. Our team severely struggled my first two years. Dropping 24 games out of a 30-game season was frustrating to say the least. No one was having fun. We were the laughing stock of the NESCAC. My greatest personal battle was deciding whether I wanted to even continue playing this game. Could I go through another 24-loss season? Of course, I put my head down and kept working, but man, it was a difficult decision.

Was there a turning point?

When coach Bob Smith decided to retire after 32 years of coaching, suddenly, we had something to play for. We realized that we needed to leave Coach Smith with a memory to be proud of – not a 24-game losing streak. So that year, we had one goal. Win more NESCAC games than we had the year before…and we did. We took two games from Williams in Arizona for spring training. One from Wesleyan on their home turf and two from Hamilton. Then we beat Amherst for the first time in 4 years and though we missed our chance at playoffs, it was the start of major change. 

When Coach Mike Leonard took the reins, the program was catapulted into another realm. As a former catcher, who played at UConn and in the Boston Red Sox minor league system, Coach Leonard taught me things that took my game to the next level. We won 22 games, the second most in Middlebury Baseball history. We beat Amherst two games and went on to sweep the Hamilton and Wesleyan and advance to the playoffs. We were having fun…lots of it. Fans were coming out to our games. It was surreal. When we battled for the NESCAC championship against Tufts, we came up a game short. But as we liked to say, this was all a part of the process. We had put Middlebury baseball back on the map.

What did those early struggles teach you about handling adversity?

IT feels great to win. Right? Obviously. It makes things in your life easier. But you know what’s not easy? Showing up the next day, 6am in the weight room after losing three straight to Amherst and giving up 60 runs over the span of three games. Showing up ready to compete after getting embarrassed in front of your family members. I also suffered a few injuries and changed positions multiple times. I learned that some things that are just beyond my control. To me, it wasn’t fair. I was busting my butt, every day trying to become a better version of myself and I had been side-lined thanks to a wild pitch in the dirt that broke the last bone in my left middle-finger and a year later, sprained my left wrist. However, these injuries taught me that I needed to be patient and to continue supporting the team in any way that I could.

I changed positions multiple times because I was frustrated with my lack of playing time. What I should have realized is that I cannot control when I play, I can only control my preparation and focus, so when the time came for me to go in the game, I was ready. It took me a while to figure that out because I believe I deserved to play. I had to take a step back and realize that if I was going to be a part of this team, I needed to be prepared for any position, any role and any scenario. 

How did these lessons help you outside of baseball?

When I graduated from Middlebury I worked for Cushman and Wakefield, one of NYC’s top commercial real estate brokerage firms. Our offices were in Brooklyn, our team focused on the neighborhoods where I grew up playing baseball. Three months after I began, the company underwent a massive restructuring and a huge part of the Brooklyn team left. I was one of three associates that kept coming to work despite the uncertainty. 

I could have easily panicked. But, I looked back to my baseball career and all its adversities, challenges, setbacks and obstacles and I realized that the only thing that I could control was coming in to work and doing what I could. My dedication and commitment paid off when I applied to Jones Lang LaSalle and was accepted by the new Investment Sales division.

Did you know if you wanted to get into Real Estate while you were still at Middlebury? 

I had no clue. I sent my first corporate application to Goldman Sachs via an online portal. I’m still waiting for their response. But honestly, I had no idea that real estate would quickly become my passion.

How did you go about getting a foothold in the industry?

Enter Betsy. Back then, Betsy was the college and career director for Breakthrough New York, a 10-year, tuition-free program designed to promote educational equality for low-income New York City students. I began the program when I was a sixth-grader and I recently graduated from program. Betsy made some connections in the industry that helped me land an interview with the director of Retail Leasing for TerraCRG. and he offered me the job. It was hands down, one of the best summers of my life. Peter taught me so many things about dealing with different types of personalities, how to negotiate a lease or put together comparable sales reports. I fell in love with the diversity of real estate and would soon realize it was something I wanted to pursue later. 

How did this affect your senior year?

When senior year rolled around, I began focusing on real estate as the career path I wanted to follow. I quickly realized that I had a real knack for networking and connecting with people from difference backgrounds and career paths. I considered myself to be a multi-cultural communicator. I was a salesman of my story. It became very apparent that I needed to put myself out there and share my story with people who would change my life. 

Senior year, I made a split-second decision to personally introduce myself to a Middlebury Trustee as she was on the way out of the door. We spoke briefly, maybe for three minutes. But as two people of color, we realized we had so much in common, especially dealing with the general white space of Middlebury. We exchanged contact information and from that point on, she quickly became a mentor, an advocate and a friend. She changed my life. She introduced me to a seasoned real estate executive, who has been a great friend and mentor. He would eventually connect me with someone who was hiring in the Cushman’s Brooklyn office and from there, the rest is history!

What advice would you give to other student-athletes who are considering a career in Real Estate?

Get yourself out there. You may not have years of experience, but as student-athletes, we have the discipline, the drive, the commitment and the dedication to succeed. 

From a more technical standpoint, I urge you to look for positions in larger companies. Why? Chances are you haven’t had much exposure to real estate, so you want to work somewhere that has a larger global, national and local platform. It easier to go from a larger company to a smaller company than vice versa. Look for Rotational Real Estate program, which are twelve-18-month programs that are dedicated to rotating you through different departments of the company. 

Another thing I realized quickly was that real estate companies usually don’t hire people until later. For example, while my consultant and investment banking friends had solid and confirmed offers in early fall, I didn’t receive any offers until late April. Be patient!

One last piece of advice might be a little tough to hear. If you are offered a position within a real estate firm, chances are your salary will be based on commission alone. That means if you don’t close any deals, you aren’t getting paid. But, many successful brokers, agents and other real estate people have managed, which means you will do just fine. But, it takes time. You cannot expect to come in and starting closing deals without taking time to learn the intricacies of the real estate industry. You have to educate yourself. Become a sponge. As I have mentioned many times, you must be patient in the pursuit of your real estate career. 

What is it about working in Real Estate that you enjoy?

Real estate, to me, is exactly like the game of baseball. Your success is largely determined by your dedication, your preparation and your focus, just like us athletes. One day I might be on the phone for four hours and people are cursing me out, hanging up on me or telling me that they are not interested. Most days, I am going 0-4 on the phones, but you just need one phone call to change the course of your month and your year. The more hours you are in the gym, working on your reps, perfecting your craft, the better you will be in the long run. Real estate embodies that. 

Personally, I love this job because our team focuses in Brooklyn, my hometown. It is fascinating learning about my area through the lens of real estate. I see what is missing in from my community and what makes it the vibrant and attractive place that real estate professionals love. Lastly, I love that there are so many different career paths within the industry. You can be a developer if you are interested in creating spaces and communities for people to live, work and play. If you like numbers and math (definitely not me) you can go into Real Estate finance, where you can focus on providing debt and equity to owners and investors looking to expand their real estate portfolio. If you’re like me and love to network, creating relationships with different kinds of people, all while telling a story – brokerage and sales is the place for you to be. You don’t have to be an Economics major to go into this field. Hell, I was a political science major with a minor in Spanish and I considered myself to be doing just fine in this career.

Why is JLL a good company for athletes? 

Put simply, JLL is one of the most collaborative and team-oriented companies that I came across. You will have the opportunity to collaborate with people from all over the world, sort of like how we used to do at Middlebury. In general, I think real estate is a good industry for athletes. Many top industry professionals actively look for athletes because of their past. Professionals know that they are disciplined, can work well on a team and are always goal oriented. When things go wrong, professionals know that athletes will know how to respond and most often than not, can handle the pressure.

If you go 5 years back in time and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?

Don’t stop catching. Since the end of my career in May that is all that I could think of. If I continued to catch, even after my injury, I would have secured myself to be a starting catcher by the time Mike Leonard became our coach. I was so desperate to play that I lost sight of why I got recruited. I was brought to Middlebury to lead from behind the plate. I think I took the easy way out by looking for somewhere else to play. I wish I had the thought to perfect my craft, even as a I battled injuries. I should have trusted the process and focused on why I came here. I’ll be sure that in this new job, no matter how hard things get, no matter how many times I get knocked down, it’s all part of the process.