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A story to love

Sit down for this, people: I came across a touching story this week.

Recent emails suggest that mouthbreathing Notre Dame supporters will find it hard to believe that I have a heart that could be touched, but it’s true, and those lobotomized Golden Domers will find out when someone reads this blog to them.

Anyway, I wish the story was mine, but it’s ESPN.com’s. No matter, it’s worth sharing, and pretty timely leading up to SoxFest this weekend.

White Sox pitcher Hector Santiago had his agent call Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., and ask if he could speak to an assembly of kids who are still grieving from the murderous rampage that killed 20 schoolmates and six adults last month.

This wasn’t the White Sox calling up Sandy Hook and saying they would send somebody, although the organization has a big social heart and I wouldn’t doubt if the people in charge thought about it.

No, this was Santiago on his own.

That might seem like a small distinction to you, but it remains a big deal to the people at Sandy Hook and St. Rose of Lima Church. They certainly have welcomed bigger names than Santiago. Who wouldn’t be bigger than Santiago? I’m not saying that to be mean. I’m just evaluating his name brand realistically.

Heck, just compare Santiago to others in the Sox bullpen, and you see when I mean. Then when you compare Santiago to, say, Mia Hamm and Landon Donovan and MLS stars who staged a “Soccer Night in Newtown,’’ you can see the pecking order.

But the people there talk about Santiago as a Hall-of-Fame human precisely because he did it on his own. Not a big name. Not making a big deal out of it. Just an instinctive act by a guy who wants to start a foundation someday.

People quoted in the story speak of Santiago’s heartfelt need to be there and his genuine interest in doing whatever he could do to help the kids get back to being kids.

So, once arrangements were made earlier this month, Santiago, who has a Facebook page called “Santiago’s Soldiers’’ that is aimed at kids, drove to St. Rose of Lima Church near the school and gave students a chance to meet a major-league ballplayer. He brought photos and a Sharpie and signed for everyone.

But most importantly, he brought himself and his story: a 30th-round draft choice who kicked around Single A for three years and neared the end of his career when he learned to throw the screwball. He made the majors, he has struck out Alex Rodriguez and Robinson Cano, and he has won and saved games for the Sox.

Who knows where Santiago’s career goes now, but he overcame some tough times to make the show, and that was the point he made to the Sandy Hook kids.

“I remember going to ballgames when I was a kid, and it was the best thing ever,’’ Santiago said. “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.’’

The online account indicates Santiago did exactly that. Then he drove home to New Jersey, having turned a small act of compassion into a big day for kids who could use it.

Hector Santiago, your table is ready.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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