Looks and reputation are often deceiving. It was for longtime Burbank youth baseball coach Jose Sandoval, who on Saturday at Olive Park was given a certificate by the city and inducted into the Burbank Athletics Walk of Fame.
For Sandoval, the 44-year-old former gang member, this high honor would have been unthinkable.
It became a reality via hard work and keen dedication to helping kids through baseball.
Hazel Turrubiartes, whose son played for Sandoval, was also instrumental because she nominated him for the Walk of Fame.
Others inducted included longtime coaches Bill Dunaway, Bob Lizarraga and Tiffany Nelson.
Sandoval’s wife Nancy, 22-year-old son Jose Jr., 17-year-old daughter Breanna and 14-year-old daughter Victoria, were all there to share in his joy.
“We had to get there at 7:45,” Sandoval said. “I felt out of place. I didn’t look like I belonged there. I didn’t think this was meant for me.”
Sandoval, who has been a Hap Minor coach for 23 years, went on: “Then from every direction I saw my support system and I felt at ease. Everyone was there greeting me. I was relaxed and I felt comfortable. I was very nervous at first.”
Sandoval, who works at Fortner Engineering and Mechanics in Glendale, said someone motivated him in the Burbank Parks and Recreation Department.
“I’d always heard [from that employee] I’ll never get that award because I’m a minority,” he said. “I didn’t take his word for it. My goal was to prove him wrong. Everything in my life had been negative. But I looked for the positive things that came out of it. What can I do to make it better?”
Sandoval isn’t proud of his past, but doesn’t hide from it. “I’ve never denied the past,” he said. “I want to know and learn from it.”
For much of Sandoval’s teen years, his time was devoted to gangs and gang activity.
“I was known in Burbank. I was in the newspapers, but it was for bad things,” he said. “I was a notorious gang member. The Burbank police knew me. They harassed me and my friends. But looking back, I can why people didn’t trust me. But all that negative, I turned it around.”
Sandoval, who has been arrested numerous times and has spent time in the city and county
jail, was expelled from Burroughs High the first semester of his senior year. He was booted out of school over a fight that he wasn’t even involved in.
“My goal was to be a Marine,” Sandoval said. “But you need to have a high school diploma.”
Sandoval played youth baseball, but quit because of the coach. “He never said anything positive to me,” he noted. “I couldn’t deal with the criticism. I gave up. I did my own thing [hanging with the gang].”
Sandoval’s younger brother wanted to play baseball. “I didn’t want him to be like me,” he explained. “You’re not going to follow in my footsteps. That’s when I said, I’ll be his coach. I’ll start a team. But people said, you can’t coach, you were a gang member.”
Sandoval, who came to Burbank from East Los Angeles, said he found his true calling.
“I wanted to show there is a different world out there,” he said. “I had homies and they had kids and they wanted to play baseball. Some even played high school baseball, but some went to the streets.”
Sandoval coached his younger sister’s T-Ball team, and wanted to help out as many young people as possible.
“I told them bring your kids,” he said. “But who’s going to trust me? I was trying to change.”
An incident occurred in 1996 that altered Sandoval’s thinking. “There was a 14-year kid who wanted to play baseball. He was a gang-banger. He didn’t have the funds. I told him everyone has to have the funds. He was killed. I think about that. So now I take everybody even if they don’t have the funds. We try to find people who will help and we have fund raisers.”
Sandoval said everyone is welcome. “I take the poor, the rich. I’ll take everybody and anybody.”
Sandoval coaches five teams ranging in age from 4-6 [T-Ball] through 15-years old.
“They learn from seeing,” he said. “I don’t tell them, I show them. I’m an aggressive coach and I want to win, but I don’t want them rubbing it in the other team’s faces. That’s not my goal. I know what it was like to lose and it’s not fun.”
For Sandoval, he’s on top of the world. “Saturday made me feel great,” he said. “I never paid attention to what I was doing. But I know I’m helping a lot of kids. Everybody needs a second opportunity.”