Santiago lends a hand in Newtown healing efforts

Santiago lends a hand in Newtown healing efforts
January 28, 2013, 10:45 pm
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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."