Santiago lends a hand in Newtown healing efforts

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Santiago lends a hand in Newtown healing efforts

Hector Santiago visited with Newtown, Conn. school kids nearly a month after the shooting, but evidence of the tragedy remains.

Earlier this month, the White Sox pitcher drove just over an hour from his home in New Jersey to visit students at St. Rose of Lima Church. As he exited his vehicle, Santiago recalls he immediately noticed a police car on campus. A short while later, Santiago, who is in competition for the fifth spot in the Sox rotation this spring, noticed another police car -- and then another.

"Every morning when they go to school they have to see that," Santiago said at SoxFest on Sunday. "Even if it's over, it happened, the tragedy is done, they're still affected by it. I'm sure they didn't have three police cars by their school (before). That can bring back memories."

Santiago wasn't directly affected by the events of Sept. 11, 2001. None of his family members was killed or injured in the catastrophe.

But living in Newark, N.J., Santiago's grade school had a view of the New York City skyline. He remembers how he could see smoke from the Twin Towers from his classroom and how a teacher's assistant believed her son, who worked at the World Trade Center, was in the buildings only to later learn he was safe because he had fallen asleep on the train and was late to work.

So as he flipped channels on Dec. 14 and came across news of the massacre that left 27 dead, including 20 first-graders, Santiago -- who was still in Puerto Rico -- began to experience the same emotions. Friends whom he was staying with raced out of their apartment to pick up their children from school. Santiago knew he needed to get involved. Five days later, he and his advisor decided they would try to arrange a visit.

More than a month later, Santiago was in Newtown but not certain what he should say to a group of mostly fourth through eighth graders. He was advised to introduce himself, tell the children his story, how he made the majors after six seasons in the minors and open the floor to questions. After his introduction, Santiago fielded questions for nearly an hour.

"At first you don't know what to say, what to expect, what the reaction will be," Santiago said. "They took off. It was 45 minutes of straight questions, no break, no hesitation. There were hands all the over the place. It was awesome."

Just like that, Santiago accomplished what he set out to do -- give the students a break from their reality. For 45 minutes there were no camera crews, no police cars and no stories revealing another detail of the tragedy.

"They were all smiling," Santiago said. "There were no sad faces. It felt like they didn't think about that when I was in there. They forgot about anything else outside of it, learned about baseball and talked about it. Just watching all those kids have fun was awesome."

Preview: White Sox start series at Twins tonight on CSN

Preview: White Sox start series at Twins tonight on CSN

 

The White Sox take on the Twins on Friday, and you can catch all the action on Comcast SportsNet. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on White Sox Postgame Live.

Today’s starting pitching matchup: Jose Quintana (8-8, 2.97 ERA) vs. Ricky Nolasco (4-8, 5.40 ERA)

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Back with White Sox, Chris Sale ready to move on from 'fiasco'

Back with White Sox, Chris Sale ready to move on from 'fiasco'

Even though he felt isolated and experienced a five-day stretch he called “a fiasco,” Chris Sale was right where he wants to be Thursday, surrounded by White Sox teammates.

Shortly after a 3-1 loss to the Cubs, the pitcher echoed the sentiments of White Sox management in a 10-minute media session when he suggested he’d like to move on from a five-game suspension for insubordination and destruction of team property.

With the trade deadline only four days away, Sale wants to stay with the White Sox and hopes the current roster gets an opportunity to win. He also thought an incident in which he destroyed promotional throwback jerseys had been blown out of proportion.

While he didn’t apologize for his actions, the left-hander said he regretted letting down his teammates and fans who attended Saturday’s game. Sale, whose record fell to 14-4 after he allowed two runs in six innings, said he plans to address White Sox players and coaches soon and intends to let them know his level of appreciation.

“I want to let them know where my head is at, where my heart is at,” Sale said. “And let them know how much I appreciate them.

“I felt like I was out on an island, really. 7 o’clock rolls around and I usually know what’s going on. Sitting at the house sucks.

“I regret not being there for my guys. I’m a pitcher. I’m called upon every fifth day and when I can’t go out there for my guys and the fans, it gets to me.”

Similar to March when he pitched a day after ripping executive vice president Kenny Williams, Sale said his focus is back on the field. He declined to answer what he didn’t like about the throwback jerseys, calling it “counterproductive.” Even though the White Sox are on the outside looking in, Sale is hopeful he and his teammates can rally and make a strong postseason push over the final 60 games.

“I think everyone is making just a little bit bigger deal of this than it really is,” Sale said. “We are here to win games and from this point forward, I think that’s our main focus. We are going to come in every day and do our jobs and try to win ballgames, that’s at the forefront.

“I don’t like people filling in for me. I love what I do. I love pitching. I love competing. I love the guys that I’m surrounded by.”

“When I let them down, it hurts me more than it hurts them.”

Three days after he suggested manager Robin Ventura didn’t properly support him, Sale declined to discuss their future relationship and again diverted the conversation back to the field. When asked what was the biggest lesson he took from the ordeal, Sale said he wasn’t quite sure.

“I know you guys are trying to get in there and you guys have to write stories and stuff,” Sale said. “I understand. But they said their side. I said my side. I’m ready to talk about baseball and playing baseball and getting back to winning and getting the Chicago White Sox into the postseason. That’s my goal. That’s my focus. Anything else, that’s for you guys.”

While he admits that his competitive side may have fed into Saturday’s events, he also knows abandoning it would hurt him on the field. Sale said he was inundated by texts and calls from teammates past and present during his absence. That only strengthened his desire to win with the current group, Sale said.

“There’s no doubt my emotions have got me to this point,” he said. “I wouldn’t be the same person without them but stuff happens. Move on. We have an unbelievable group of guys in that clubhouse. We’ll just push forward.

“I’m here to win. I love exactly where I’m at. I have an unbelievable group of guys in that clubhouse. We’re pulling for each other, they are pulling for me and vice versa, through and through. I’d like to stay with this group of guys and make a push for the playoffs because I love those guys.”

White Sox find normalcy in Chris Sale's return from suspension

White Sox find normalcy in Chris Sale's return from suspension

The word of the day Thursday around the cramped confines of the visitor’s clubhouse at Wrigley Field was normal, as in getting things back to it with ace left-hander Chris Sale taking the mound after serving a five-game suspension for “insubordination and destruction of team property.”

A completely abnormal story — Sale cut up the 1976 throwback uniforms he didn’t want to wear last Saturday and was sent home for his actions — gave way to a relatively routine evening. Sale allowed two runs on six hits with three walks and four strikeouts over six innings, though the White Sox lineup was shut down by John Lackey and the Cubs’ new three-headed bullpen monster in a 3-1 Crosstown loss.

“Things were pretty normal,” manager Robin Ventura said. “Guys got here, not a different clubhouse or anything like that. I think everything went fairly normal as far as him going out there and pitching and it was about baseball.”

First baseman Jose Abreu said things felt like an ordinary Sale start, even though the American League’s All-Star starting pitcher hadn’t pitched since July 18. He didn’t have his best stuff and wasn’t his sharpest, either — those three walks were his highest total in over two months — as he wasn’t able to consistently paint the corners with his explosive arsenal of pitches.

But, as usual, Sale worked quickly and kept his team in the game against one of baseball’s best offenses.

“He pitched a very good game,” Abreu said through a translator.

The Cuban first baseman added: “I think that we already moved on.”

Catcher Dioner Navarro agreed.

“He gave us a great outing, we just weren’t able to score any runs for him,” Navarro said.

Before the game, third baseman Todd Frazier said he and his teammates rallied around Sale and hoped a solid outing from the 27-year-old left-hander would put the bizarre incident squarely in the rearview mirror. 

“Some mistakes are bigger than others but you gotta understand that we’re all not perfect,” Frazier said. “Things do happen in this game, different things that you think (you’ve) never seen before, and then it happens. It’s just one of those things, hopefully it goes away quick with the way he pitches."

Sale said he didn’t discuss the incident or his suspension with his teammates before the game to keep things as normal as possible. After he showed up a little after 4:40 p.m., he received hugs and handshakes from teammates welcoming him back following his five-day exile.

But after that, Navarro said things were business as usual. He and Sale went through the gameplan and got ready to face the Cubs' powerful lineup instead of dwelling on what happened last Saturday. Eventually, Sale will talk to his coaches and teammates on a personal level to “let them know where my head is at, where my heart is at, and let them know how much I appreciate them.”

With the White Sox playoff hopes flickering as the trade deadline approaches, though, Sale’s teammates are eager to keep the focus on trying to dig themselves out of a substantial, two-games-under-.500 hole.

“Everything’s in the past,” Navarro said. “He did a great job. Quality start, nothing else you can ask.”