As a 16-year-old, Anthony Banda wasn’t even sure he’d be going to college for baseball. Just three short years later, he’s become a professional baseball player and a pitching prospect in the Milwaukee Brewers organization.
Banda’s success is something he attributes, in no small part, to the support of his family. “I don’t come from a big wealthy kind of family” said Banda. “I come from an average kind of family. I don’t come from a lot. But what really drives me, besides my dreams, is my father. He didn’t have the best childhood. He didn’t have the best stuff growing up, but he enjoyed it. He took everything that he had and enjoyed every second of it.
He basically saw me having a future in baseball my senior year. My dad, being a construction worker, him sacrificing his time and money that he could use for something else that’s more valuable to the family. He actually sent me off to Houston, which is four hours away. He would drive me to Florida, he drove me to Arizona, we flew to Ohio. My dad is the one who got me exposed to baseball.
My mother also played a big role as I was growing up. She raised me just right. To treat people with respect, just be the better man basically. Have the respect, have the manners, just be who you really are. Don’t be somebody who you wanna be to make people think that you’re cool. Just be who you are.
I have four other brothers and one sister, and I really give my family a lot of credit, because they never once complained about anything. Never once complained about ‘oh why’s he getting all the attention’. They saw what my parents were doing, saw what I was capable of achieving, and they just supported everything that me, my father and my mother agreed to. And that’s why I give back a lot to them and that’s why I want people to know, that no matter where you come from, you can always do something with your lives.”
In addition to his family, Banda also credits several others who have helped him along the way, including Emilio “Emi” Alaniz and former Brewers pitcher Mike Adams. Alaniz’s son Adrain spent five years in the Washington Nationals and Philadelphia Phillies organizations. “He’s a big part of my life” Banda said about Alaniz, “he’s a mentor for me.”
Adams, like Banda, is a native of Sinton, Texas. “My senior year in high school I actually practiced with him” Banda recalled. “We went to the same school, grew up in the same town, we both know the same people, it’s a small community. The first thing he told me was ‘you have the tools, to make something out of your career, out of baseball’. And of course, being 16 years old, I was amazed. Because he was a rockstar to me and just him having that experience and a person like him telling me that I have the tools to do something with myself, with baseball, was just amazing. For me, the person he is, on and off the field, is actually the same. On the field, he’s nice and calm, he’s a gentleman. And off the field, you know, same deal. He’s a good guy and he’s one of the guys I really look up to because his story kind of motivates me. He never gave up and that’s something I will never do, I’ll never give up. I’ll never give up my dreams. I don’t consider making it to minor ball my dream, (but) it’s definitely closer to my dream than I was when I was 16.”
Banda first caught the eye of an Arizona DiamondBacks scout while playing for the Houston Raiders 18U team. His coach with the Raiders, JR Salinas, also served as an area scout in Texas for the DiamondBacks.
At the same time, Banda was also receiving attention from one of the nation’s top Junior College programs, San Jacinto. “My junior year I did well in summer leagues” said Banda. I come back to high school and next thing I know I get a call from San Jac, they wanted me to visit, and sign. I ended up signing with San Jac, got my scholarship, and then the draft comes.”
It wasn’t until a week before the 2011 draft that Banda even thought about the possibility of being selected. “I remember going to my friend’s house” Banda recalled. “I was driving my dad’s truck, my dad was in the passenger seat and he gets a phone call and he looks at me and he says ‘it’s JR’ and I’m like oh man, he probably wants me to go to Houston to pitch for him. Which is perfectly fine, I love pitching for that guy. He’s a great gentleman. And he gets on the phone, answers the phone and I’m driving. My dad looks at me and starts smiling, and I’m looking at him like okay, what’s going on? And then he, I’ll never forget this moment, my dad jumps up and down like a little kid in his seat. And I’m kinda laughing at him and in my head at the same time I’m confused, like what’s going on? What are they talking about? And my dad takes the phone from his ear and he said ‘they’re gonna draft you.'”
When the draft arrived a week later, Banda had to wait around for a while before finally getting the call. “I’m just sitting there and I’m waiting, waiting, and day two comes and I’m sitting there, waiting, waiting” said Banda. He finally logged off his computer and decided to take a nap. It was then that his scout, JR Salinas, called to congratulate him on being selected in the 33rd round by the Arizona DiamondBacks.
With a scholarship to San Jacinto waiting for him, Banda needed to decide between college and beginning his pro career. He decided on college. “I told him (Salinas) I think I wanna just give a year of college a shot” said Banda “because I don’t wanna go in to pro ball and then look back and have that regret of not experiencing college baseball. And he was like, ‘that’s exactly what I wanted to hear. Have a good year in college, and we’ll see what happens.'”
Banda struggled early on at San Jac. “I had a horrible fall. I was on the verge of being cut” he said. “Then one day, it clicked, everything was working, my velocity was in the 90’s. And they ended up keeping me. But I ended up starting in the bullpen. So I had to basically work my way up to a starter. i ended up in the bullpen, didn’t pitch for a good two weeks. Then I finally pitched a non-conference game. I went seven innings, like four hits, two runs and they were like okay we’ll have you continue to pitch. The head coach pulled me in to the office and said you’re gonna make one more non-conference start and depending on how you do will determine whether you’re gonna stay in the bullpen or become one of our starters. I ended up doing real well again and so my first conference start was against Angelina College and I actually did really well and ended up getting the win. And then from that day on I was just a starter. Our Saturday starter.”
Banda and San Jacinto did so well that they won their conference, won regionals and advanced all the way to the NJCAA World Series Championship game. Banda got the start and went five innings, allowing just two runs, and left with a 5-2 lead. Iowa Western would rally for a 6-5 victory, but Banda did enough to prove he made the right call by going to school for a year.
When the 2012 draft rolled around, there were more teams than just the DiamondBacks interested in Banda. “I was really talking to Kansas City, the Pirates and the Blue Jays” said Banda. I was in touch with the DiamondBacks but not as much as I was in high school. I really didn’t speak to the Brewers.
Draft day comes and the Brewers called me. I had just got off the phone with the Kansas City Royals and the Brewers Brian Sankey calls me. And he just basically asked me if there were other teams calling me. I told him yes, the Royals and Pirates. He said ‘so any specific idea where you’re going?’ and I told him basically they told me anywhere from the 8th-10th round. And he’s like ‘okay well I just wanted to give you a holler and talk to you, good luck with everything’, basically making me think, well nevermind, we’re not gonna take this kid.
That was the first real contact I had with the Brewers that whole year. Then 8th round comes, nothing. 9th round comes, nothing. Well 9th round, our ace (Daniel Stumpf) gets picked by Kansas City and I’m thinking, okay I’m going 10th round to Kansas City. Kansas City calls me and he’s like ‘hey you’re next on the board, we’re talking about you, everything’s sounding good, we’ll see what happens.'”
Banda went outside and called his dad. Then the pick came in. “As soon as I get off the phone, my friend, Tracker Conn, texted me saying ‘congratulations’. I was like, okay I just got picked, so I went to a computer. I look. Pirates. Nothing. I look. Kansas City. Nothing. So I’m like who’d I get picked by? I looked and I see the Brewers and I’m like, what? I thought they didn’t want me. I thought, the scout made me think that they weren’t gonna pick me. I was just excited.” He called his dad back and gave him the good news, then told his mom. “Next day we negotiated, got signed, a week later flew out, and here I am.”
The 6’3″ 185 pound lefty began his professional career with the Brewers team in the Arizona League. He pitched in 14 games last season, going 2-3 with a 5.83 ERA and striking out 43 batters in 41. 2 innings of work. A three pitch pitcher, Banda features a fastball that currently sits between 90-93 miles per hour. He also throws a curveball and change up. Being a Texan and a left-handed pitcher, it’s no surprise that Banda’s two favorite players growing up were Roger Clemens and Randy Johnson. “Roger Clemens, he was really a hard worker” he said. “I just personally met him face to face at a high school banquet that he awarded us our awards. I’ll never forget that his hand actually swallowed my hand when I shook it. And Randy, you know, I grew up watching Randy. My uncle actually introduced me to the style of Randy’s pitching and just the amazing effort that he puts in day-to-day. Just how stoic and how aggressive he was and how amazing that his stuff was. I loved seeing batters striking out, and I loved seeing him just dominate.”
Though nothing’s been decided yet, Banda hopes to grab a spot in the Helena rotation when they open up play on June 20th. When asked about his goals for 2013 he said “I don’t set statistical goals or anything like that. I set goals for the bigger picture. My first goal is to get out of Arizona. To make it out of Arizona and get to the next level as soon as possible. My second goal is to perform to my best ability every single time out. Every time I go out on to the field to perform. And the third thing, I wanna be the guy that my teammates, you know when I’m pitching that day my teammates are like, oh yeah Anthony’s pitching, today’s gonna be a great day. I wanna be that guy.”
Banda’s come a long way in a short time and could have a bright future with Milwaukee as his development continues, but he won’t forget the people who helped get him there. “My father and my family basically stopped their outside activities for me, just to get me where I’m at, and now I can sit back and tell this story to people and fans that don’t know anything about me, just sit back and say look, nothing’s unreachable. No matter what your situation is, it’s always reachable.”