CHICAGO | In a world wracked with shocking violence, out-of-control greed and juvenile politics, good things still happen to good people.
Hector Santiago would be “good people” even if he wasn’t a White Sox starting pitcher. That is part of the family values passed down from his father, Hector Sr., from their roots in blue-collar Newark, N.J.
Santiago, 25, is plugging a hole left by Gavin Floyd’s season-ending elbow surgery. He was not unprepared. Ticketed for the bullpen in the offseason, he still built up his arm as if he’d be a starter.
While the Floyd absence filled a Sox need, Santiago’s personality was vital when he tried to fill the holes in the hearts of students at St. Rose of Lima Church and school in Newtown, Conn.
The visit was totally his idea in January. Santiago drove to Newtown with his father a month after many of the students lost friends in the horrific Sandy Hook massacre.
The Sox employ someone special beyond a talented left arm, making his sixth career start tonight at Target Field in Minneapolis. He wants to rise in the game like anyone else.
“I try to be a nice guy on and off the field, and on the mound,” Santiago said before the Sox vs. Angels game Sunday. “You don’t want them to think you’re weak (pitching), don’t want to give any signs you’re not going to come in and throw a fastball.
“I feel like I’m still going to attack you. I’m not going to be afraid to come in and throw a fastball, 94 (mph) up and in, to get you off the plate.”
But in the seconds before and after any purpose pitches, Santiago flicks the off switch and reverts to his gentlemanly persona. That’s the part of consistency going well beyond baseball.
“I kind of have those two personalities and make sure don’t let one control the other,” he said. “Show who you are and be who you are, and when you need to have that other level of intensity, let it go. My father is the same way. He’s just kind of always the nice guy. I’m the nice guy out there, willing to give a helping hand, but if I need to be (in baseball), I’ll get after it and be the other person.”
Santiago will be able to better support his goal of a family philanthropic foundation if he becomes a Sox mainstay.
“I think he’s just really improved on everything,” catcher Tyler Flowers said. “Last year, he was maybe a little more one-sided where he went on the plate. He was kind of more two or three pitches – fastball, changeup, screwball.
“Now he’s got a pretty good cutter to go with it to kind of keep righties off-balance. And recently, he’s been throwing his breaking ball kind of ‘slurvish’ and dropping it in there for strikes.”
Santiago lockers next to Matt Thornton, so he can learn from a veteran lefty. But all Sox could learn from Santiago’s giving-of-himself, as best shown to pump up the kids at St. Rose.
“I just kind of went there, give them a good day and have fun with it,” he said. “Something they could get away from and not think about (the tragedy).”
The start tonight and the Newtown visit will be far from the last time Santiago’s good-person qualities will be displayed on and off the field.
This column solely represents the writer’s opinion. Reach him at DGemsNet@aol.com.