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Anthony Santiago helps Charlotte Knights make adjustments on and off field

White Sox Latin/cultural development coordinator starts job alongside Yoan Moncada

Anthony Santiago
Buren Foster Photography

Anthony Santiago's job title with the Charlotte Knights is quite simple: coach.

But the 27-year-old’s contributions to the team’s success can't be measured so succinctly.

Sure, he is the first-base coach on Mark Grudzielanek’s staff. Within the White Sox organization, though, he is the Latin/cultural development coordinator, which adds even more responsibilities to his job description. For the media, he’s a translator, and for players, he can be described as a friend, big brother or mentor.

Santiago, a Newark, N.J., native, is in his first year on the job(s); the latest twist in a baseball journey that began at Division-III Mitchell College in New London, Conn.

"We had a pretty decent team. The coach signed a bunch of guys from the inner city, so we were OK," Santiago said.

From Connecticut, Santiago went the junior college route to the College of Central Florida in Ocala. He started as a catcher, but was converted to a pitcher after signing first professional player contract with the White Sox.

After stops in rookie ball in Bristol, Va., and Great Falls, Mont., the organization saw something in Santiago.

"I got released after winter ball in Puerto Rico, when the White Sox called me back to see if I had signed elsewhere,” Santiago said. “In my mind, I thought it was still an opportunity to play, but then they told me they had a coaching position for me and that I would be perfect for the job.

“I gave it a little thought, talked it over with my brother (former White Sox and current Minnesota Twins pitcher Hector Santiago), who encouraged me to go for it. It was an awesome opportunity, so why not start my coaching career early?"

Santiago, who is of Puerto Rican descent, was close to the Latin players in his playing days.

"When I was in Great Falls, I would help guys open bank accounts. I knew these guys didn't have it easy (acclimating to the United States). They'd talk to me about not having enough money, or not knowing how to order food when they go out to eat. It was a struggle for them. I did it because I wanted to help out, so I guess the organization caught on to that"

Santiago had been in a similar situation himself.

"Growing up in Jersey and going to school and with my family speaking English in the house, I never picked up Spanish. I could understand some things, but I never actually spoke the language,” Santiago explained.

“I felt exactly how some of these guys feel. When I went to the Dominican Republic to play winter ball, I was in a new culture, didn't know the language. I was by myself. I was afraid to speak, I didn't want people to make fun of me. Some of my teammates were a big help, saying things like, ‘If you say something wrong, we'll help you.’

“When I got back to the States and back to the minors, we had Dominicans, Cubans, Venezuelans, different dialects which helps me now."

Fast-forward to this season, and Santiago has some of the same transitional responsibilities here in Charlotte. He works with many of the Knights’ Latin players, most notably Yoan Moncada. It is Santiago who is at Moncada's side for every press availability, to translate our words to his and his to ours.

"It's been great. I took some time during spring training to get to know Yoan, he's a quieter guy,” Santiago said. “I wanted him to feel comfortable with me. Coming over from the (Red Sox) trade all eyes are on him and he's by himself. Coaches are going to give him advice, so whenever someone is trying to communicate with him, I just try to convey to Yoan to have faith in what they're saying, trust the process.

“He's been great. He's a real respectful kid. When the lights come on he's playing 100 percent."

Santiago gets a chance to see a side of Moncada many in the press and fans do not.

"You can tell when he's in his comfort zone. He has these moments when he's laughing or dancing. Sometimes people see baseball players as robotic and going through the motions, but he's enjoying himself here in Charlotte.”

Moncada appreciates Santiago’s assistance.

"I'm really grateful for Anthony being able to help me." says Moncada, obviously through Santiago. "(Anthony) has helped me not only on the defensive side, but with the language and inside the batting cage. He has given me a lot of advice not only on the baseball side but also helping out on things that can happen in the future."

Grudzielanek says having Santiago on staff has been essential to the team’s success.

"When you go out there and talk to these kids, you need to relay the information quickly and Anthony is very instrumental in that,” Grudzielanek says. “He's that bridge that really smooths things out. When Anthony is here, there is no language barrier."

Both Santiago and Moncada may not be in Charlotte for long, although for different reasons. With Moncada, he’s waiting for the call to Chicago, where he should eventually be a part of the White Sox’ everyday lineup.

Santiago's future is a little more up in the air. "I still have to make a few trips to the Dominican Republic this year. I don't have my schedule set up as of now, but I'm here in Charlotte until I'm not!"