Unprompted by any public relations machine, Santiago recently paid a visit to St. Rose of Lima church in Newtown, Conn., a short ride from Sandy Hook Elementary, where 20 kids and six adults were shot to death in December. Santiago, who grew up in Newark, N.J. and remembers seeing the smoke of the 9/11 massacre through a classroom window as a 14-year-old , felt an immediate connection to the kids of Newtown. He felt he had to do something. From ESPN:
"Once you're at this level, you have young kids and families and the whole community looking up to you,'' Santiago says. "You're on TV, and they're watching. I remember going to ballgames when I was a kid, and it was the best thing ever. If kids have a chance to meet you off the field in person and interact with you, it can brighten a day. You can help them fight and push them and make them better.''
Still, Santiago felt like a tough task was ahead of him. What should he say to these kids, many of whom lost friends, or certainly knew family of the victims?
The kids made it easy on him by being ready with questions, many of which were amusing. What are his favorite sports teams? Does he like pie? What's his favorite dessert? What's his favorite movie? Who is his best friend on the White Sox?
Santiago's responses: the Dallas Cowboys, New York Knicks, New Jersey Devils, apple, cheesecake, "Step Brothers'' and reliever Nate Jones, in that order.
The meaning behind Santiago's overall message was simple but valuable: He encouraged the kids to ride out the tough times in their lives. Good times will come again. A little hope. And he wanted to let them know that somebody cared.
As Crasnick points out, many other athletes and celebrities — most of whom are much more famous than Santiago — paid visits to Sandy Hook in the wake of horror perpetrated there. Santiago's visit, coordinated by Santiago's agent and Monsignor Robert Weiss, was a little different:
[U]nlike other professional athletes, Santiago reached out to Newtown kids from schools beyond Sandy Hook. His New Jersey roots and affiliation with an unfamiliar team made an instant impression upon Monsignor Weiss and Mary Maloney, the school principal at St. Rose.
"It was genuine. It was heartfelt. It was his personal outreach. That's what made this different,'' Maloney says. "This wasn't the White Sox calling and saying, 'We're sending him.' He brought himself to the table, and that's where the connection came with the kids.''
The White Sox's farm system takes its knocks for being one of the worst in the majors. But the team seemed to hit on a gem of a person in Hector Santiago.