When freshman designated hitter Conagher Sands‘ mother was beginning her battle with cancer, the Cal Poly Baseball team stepped in to support a cause greater than the game itself. Several Mustangs shaved their heads alongside Sands before the team’s match-up against UC Davis April 12-14. Sands went on to lead the Mustangs in their historic away sweep with a Cal Poly player of the week performance.
“Every game I’d be like, ‘Alright, I’m going to do this for Mom,’” Sands said. “It was awesome being able to do that and for her to see me get player of the week.”
Sands said he tossed around the idea of shaving his head in support of his mom for a couple weeks. That idea was solidified when team leaders Michael Clark and Taylor Dollard approached Sands with encouragement. According to Sands, Clark and Dollard not only shaved their heads with him, but they tried to get as many people on board as possible.
“It was awesome,” Sands said. “Going to war with [my teammates] every game, they’re my brothers at this point. I’d do anything for them, and just knowing that they’d do anything for me is really amazing.”
— Cal Poly Baseball (@calpolystangs) April 12, 2019
After experiencing loss at a young age due to his grandfather’s passing of cancer, Sands said he immediately thought of the worst-case scenario when he learned of his mother’s diagnosis: stage two breast cancer.
“It’s scary being over in college and not knowing if she’s going to be alright,” Sands said.
However, Sands said his mother ended up doing well in her first round of treatment.
“She feels a little sick, but that’s normal for what she’s going through,” Sands said. “She should be fine. She’s strong. She’ll do well.”
That strong will and determination is something Sands said his mother instilled in him at a young age. She made sure Sands “kept his nose to the grindstone” and worked hard to become a better version of himself. When asked about his mother’s impact on his baseball career, Sands’ face lit up with enthusiasm.
“Oh, dude, I couldn’t even get started,” Sands said. “I swear she was the one to take me to all the tournaments, every game, everything … I think she was actually like the team mom growing up on every team. She’s been a big part of supporting me and a person I can really rely on to help me live out my dreams.”
For head coach Larry Lee, the team’s actions are a reminder of what is truly important in life.
“We put a lot of emphasis on [baseball], but in the grand scheme of things, it’s not really anything,” Lee said. “It just shows the solidarity and it shows that they understand the big picture.”
With freshly cut hair, the Mustangs had to turn around and face UC Davis on the road. However, the Mustangs had been struggling recently. Cal Poly gave up 16 runs on three separate occasions against Cal State Fullerton and Fresno State. The 51 runs scored against the program made for the highest cumulative total allowed in a four-game stretch dating back more than eight years.
“We didn’t do a lot of things very well,” Lee said. “[Fullerton is] a tough match-up. They’re a good ball club … We were fortunate to play one good ball game and win one of the three.”
Cal Poly had also never swept the Aggies at Dobbins Stadium in program history. That, however, was about to change.
“Mentally, I was a headcase because of my mom,” Sands said. “But when the guys all rallied behind me, it helped me feel supported and helped me clear my mind at the plate.”
Sands’ steadiness was obvious as the freshman went on to produce a player of the week performance over the course of three games. The designated hitter registered two RBI in game one with a triple and a double. Sands drove in another two runs Saturday with a pair of sacrifice flies. And on Sunday, Sands contributed a vital game-tying RBI single with two outs in the eighth inning. Cal Poly went on to score in the ninth inning and complete their first-ever away sweep over UC Davis with a 6-5 comeback victory.
Sands held just one RBI on his record before entering the UC Davis series, but there, he tallied five RBI against the Aggies.
“[Conagher] is coming up big,” Lee said. “He’s had a lot of quality hits and his outs are hard hit balls. It’s great because we need as much offensive output as we can get, and he supplied a large part of that in the middle of the lineup.”
Sands and junior pitcher Bobby Ay agreed the team carried some extra motivation into the series.
“It felt like we weren’t going to lose,” Ay said. “No matter what had happened, we were going to come back and win that game … Always staying positive in the dugout and knowing that we can come back and win at any moment, that’s something special, and it obviously relates and will happen at times like that.”
With the support of the team at his back and a historic sweep behind him, Sands said he hopes to continue fighting for first place in the Big West. The Bakersfield native is currently on a 15-game hitting streak and holds an impressive .354 batting average — a testament to Sands’ resilience in the face of a significant hardship.
“This is one of the places that I’m actually free to be happy and be myself and not have to think about everything else,” Sands said. “It’s an escape.”