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."

Chris Sale: Trade from White Sox 'bittersweet,' ready to move on with Red Sox

Chris Sale: Trade from White Sox 'bittersweet,' ready to move on with Red Sox

There’s no question he’s excited about the chance to pitch for a perennial playoff team in front of Fenway Park crowds deep into October.

But Chris Sale described the trade that sent him from the White Sox to the Boston Red Sox as bittersweet on Wednesday morning. On his way out of town, Sale, who was traded Tuesday for four minor leaguers, including two elite prospects, credited the White Sox for their support and belief in him from the outset of his career. But while he wishes he could have won a title on the South Side, Sale also said he’s ready to move on.

“It’s exciting for all the reasons I already said,” Sale said. “It’s tough. You build a relationship with these guys and they are like family. Everybody over there is being in your family. You are around these guys probably even more during the year than you are around your family. It’s tough. But knowing what lies ahead makes it a little bit easier for that transition.

“It didn’t work out. I really wish it did. I have nothing but really good things to take from that and I appreciate my time with the White Sox. But I’m looking forward to the next chapter.”

After several years of hearing trade speculation, the five-time All-Star said he started to sense the possibility was real a few weeks ago after a conversation with his agent. The chatter began to increase with the start of the Winter Meetings this week and Sale said he was inundated with texts from friends and family in anticipation of where he could be headed. When he learned it was the Red Sox, Sale said was ecstatic to learn he’d be playing for one of the “greatest baseball franchises ever.”

“It’s kind of like being monkey in the middle, you’re just glad when you finally get the ball,” Sale said. “It’s hectic. There’s a lot of speculation. There’s story after story and obviously getting flood with text messages from family and friends. Just to have the whole process out the way and to get back to normalcy will be nice.”

[Complete coverage of the White Sox-Red Sox Chris Sale blockbuster trade]

Many of those messages came from former White Sox teammates. Sale said he and his wife, who is soon due with their second child, spent much of Tuesday looking at old pictures and nostalgia from his White Sox tenure. Though he’s disappointed by the lack of team success with the White Sox, Sale said the team’s support was a critical element to his success.

The White Sox drafted Sale with the 13th overall pick in 2010 and he reached the majors later that season. Though he spent the first two seasons in the bullpen, the team’s plan all along was to make Sale a starting pitcher, something others weren’t certain he could handle. Sale has been an All-Star and also finished in the top six in the Cy Young Award vote in each of the five seasons since he became a starter.

“It didn’t work out the way we wanted it to in Chicago, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t a lot of great moments,” Sale said. “I had a very good conversation with Rick (Hahn) yesterday.

“I was in a situation in 2010, how many teams would have done what they did? It’s hard to say now, but probably not very many. They drafted me in the first round when people had questions. They brought me up to the big leagues really fast and people probably had questions. They threw in the rotation and people clearly had questions.

“They were really, they had my back a lot and they gave me opportunities that not a lot of other people would have given me. I’m very thankful for that.”

White Sox Talk Podcast: Breaking down the Chris Sale trade

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USA TODAY

White Sox Talk Podcast: Breaking down the Chris Sale trade

On the latest episode of the White Sox Talk Podcast, Chuck Garfien and Dan Hayes break down the White Sox trade of Chris Sale to the Boston Red Sox.

Plus, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe provides some insight on what exactly the White Sox got in return for their former ace.

And Rick Hahn talks about just how difficult it was to pull the trigger and trade elite, homegrown talent.

Listen to the latest episode below: