When Kyle Lobstein signed his first professional contract with the Tampa Bay Rays after being drafted 47th overall in the 2008 Major League Baseball Draft, there was Louie Sandoval, with an ear-to-ear smile, looking over Lobstein's shoulder.
When Rhiannon Baca played in the softball College World Series in Oklahoma City for the Arizona State Sun Devils in '07 and '08, there was Sandoval again, in the stands, rooting like crazy.
When Rhiannon's sister, Jessica, who plays softball at Idaho State, came to play against ASU in Tempe, Louie was there in Bengal orange.
And, when Brandon Macias, playing shortstop for the University of Kansas, was on national television in a game at famed Rosenblatt Stadium in Omaha, Neb., Louie was at Granny's Closet, watching intently every time Macias came to the plate.
Where else would he have been?
Sandoval, the proud grandfather of Lobstein, the Baca sisters and Macias, would never consider missing any of those events.
The 73-year-old, who was a standout basketball and track athlete himself at Flagstaff High, won't take any credit for the success of his grandchildren. But it's obvious if it weren't for Louie, sports would never have been such a big deal in the Lobstein, Baca or Macias households.
"We grew up at the fields, literally," said Barbara Macias, Louie's second-oldest child. "And, not just the softball fields. The basketball courts, the volleyball courts, whatever. We'd come home, do our homework, eat and then depending on if it was basketball season, volleyball season or softball season, we'd be over there with my parents.
"That's how we grew up. Always at the fields, all six of us together, around sports. It's what we knew."
THE FAMILY TREE
Sandoval, who moved to Flagstaff from New Mexico when he was 4 years old, met his future wife, Lydia, shortly after he graduated from high school, and sports quickly became a big part of their relationship.
Lydia didn't have any opportunities to play sports when she was younger, but once the two were married, they both started playing on traveling softball, volleyball and basketball teams.
"My dad used to have a roomful of trophies from all of the teams he was a part of," said Louie's youngest child, Jimmy. "I mean, I'm talking hundreds of them all over the place. It was obnoxious. We finally made them box them up and donate them to the Special Olympics."
Once the couple had their first child, Louie Jr., the sports didn't stop. Neither Louie nor Lydia stopped playing, and once their children started getting older, they naturally started playing all of the sports their parents played.
On one field would be Louie and Lydia playing in their games, and somewhere off to the side would be their six children, either watching or playing in games of their own.
The six children, Louie Jr., Barbara (Macias), Patty (Baca), Cathy (Lobstein), Thersea and Jimmy, didn't want to be anywhere else.
"We were never clean," Patty said. "We were always into something. We had Barbies, but they were always off to the side. Here we are, mud on our face and people would say to my parents, 'Oh my gosh, look at your kids,' and my parents would be like, 'What, that's how it's supposed to be.'"
Added Patty: "They weren't happy when we were clean."
All the children continued playing sports through high school, and Jimmy went on to play baseball at Yavapai College and played semi-professional baseball for a few years following his collegiate career.
"They said they wanted to get into (organized) sports in high school," said Louie, who is starting to suffer from the early stages of dementia. "They used to always play in the neighborhood, but we never knew they were so good until they got to high school."
If he was surprised at how good his children were at sports, you could say he was shocked to find out how good his grandchildren turned out to be.
THE THIRD GENERATION
Sarah Lobstein was the first Sandoval grandchild to make a name for herself, leading the Coconino volleyball team to a state championship in 2002. She then went on to play at Phoenix College and Augusta State in Georgia, where she was a key player on both teams.
Rhiannon Baca was next, playing on two College World Series teams at ASU, including the school's only softball national championship team in '08.
Had Sandoval's grandchildren stopped there, it still would have been impressive. Instead, the pipeline was just getting started.
Rhiannon's younger sister, Jessica, who was a Daily Sun Softball Player of the Year during her career at Flagstaff High, played a year at Arizona Central before going on to Idaho State, where she still has one more year of eligibility remaining. Her junior season this past year was cut short after she tore her ACL in the middle of the season.
Brandon Macias was the first grandson to make a splash, starring at FHS at shortstop, which eventually landed him a scholarship to ASU, just like his cousin, Rhiannon.
After a semester at ASU, Macias decided to take his game to South Mountain Junior College, where he played for two seasons before getting back to the Division I level, where he is now at Kansas. Macias started at shortstop the entire season for the Jayhawks and batted lead-off.
SHARING THE SPOTLIGHT
During Brandon's senior season at FHS, he had to share the spotlight with a junior at Coconino who was lighting up the radar gun as a pitcher for the Panthers. His name? Kyle Lobstein.
Lobstein was one of the most heralded high school pitchers in the 2008 MLB Draft, receiving a $1.5 million signing bonus. He's currently playing in the Rays' minor league system and could be in the Major Leagues in the next three to four years if things continue to go well for him.
Brandon's sister, Ashley, also played softball at FHS from 2000-2003 and was the team MVP her senior season.
"We're just so proud of them, and they're all such good kids," Lydia Sandoval said. "They've turned into awesome grandchildren. We still try to follow all of their games on the Internet. Louie will be out working on the back yard or something and I'll start yelling and he'll come running in, saying, 'What's the matter? What's the matter?' If they play every night, we follow them every night."
Louie Jr.'s children also played sports, playing high school football in Globe, where the family lives. Jimmy's children are still too young for sports, but could very well follow in the footsteps of their older cousins, based on Jimmy's success at Yavapai.
Daniel Berk can be reached at email@example.com or 556-2251.