Family figure and now productive Major Leaguer: Tribe catcher Carlos Santana does it all
Growing up in a house full of girls in the Dominican Republic, Indians catcher Carlos Santana looked out for his mother and five sisters in exchange for some beauty and fashion advice. While Santana credits his sisters for his flashy hairstyle, it is his sisters who rely on him as a fatherly figure in the poor capital of Santo Domingo.
Santana’s parents filed for a divorce when he was 15, leaving him and his seven siblings with one decision: Would you rather live with your mom or your dad?
“[If] I went with my dad, we went to the military. Or [I could] go with my mom and [play]baseball,” Santana said. “I [went] with my mom and play[ed] baseball. My mom gave me more support than my dad.”
Santana’s difficult decision to live with his mother and pursue a career in baseball obviously has paid dividends for the 27-year-old. Now a legend in his hometown, his sisters — especially his 12-year-old sister, Lily (short for Lisandra) — adore him, always offering to style their older brother’s hair and constantly seeking advice from him.
Santana’s youngest two sisters still reside with his mother, while his other three sisters and two brothers are married and living on their own.
Santana, who is married, said he wants to make sure his sisters find the right man, so they ultimately end up in a better marriage than his parents did.
“It’s difficult, but I talk and have good communication with all my sisters,” he said. “What I talk about with my little two sisters is, ‘Be careful with men; respect people.’
“They hear me, whether they like it or whether I like it. They need to be patient with their life because life is hard.”
Santana spent most of his time playing baseball in the streets of Santo Domingo, where he and the neighbors played five-on-five, swinging baseball hats instead of bats and bare-handing every grounder because a baseball glove was a luxury item.
Once scouts began to recognize Santana’s potential as a baseball player, he dropped out of school to compete full time for a spot at a Dominican baseball academy.
Santana’s father spent the majority of his childhood in the military, and his mother worked as a doctor. Despite being fed and cared for, Santana and his siblings did not have “a future in the bank.”
“I went to high school in the Dominican, but I knew I could play baseball professionally,” Santana said. “I didn’t study too much; it’s different in the Dominican. Here [in the United States], you need to be a student if you want to play professionally. But in the Dominican, they don’t care. It’s student or baseball, and I played baseball.”
Many doubted the then-third baseman’s talent when he first started playing baseball, but Santana trusted that his hard work would pay off down the road.
Santana fulfilled his dream years later, when he signed a contract worth $75,000 with the Los Angeles Dodgers and bought his mother a nice home in the Dominican Republic.
“My career depends on my faith,” he said. “Before I signed professionally, I had a couple people that didn’t believe me that I could play baseball.
“[My faith] means everything. When I have a bad moment, I’m thinking, ‘I can do it.’ For me, it’s something hard, something personal, and you can do it [even] if some people talk to you about how you cannot. Other people don’t believe you, [but] you can do it.”
Contenders in Cleveland
Nearly three years passed before Santana arrived in the U.S. and played in the Dodgers’ minor league system. In 2008, Santana — then with L.A.’s Class A club — was acquired by the Tribe, in exchange for Casey Blake and cash considerations.
Surely, Santana has overcome all of the naysayers and made an impression on his teammates in Cleveland. In 91 games with the Indians this season, Santana holds a .271 batting average and a .381 on-base percentage. In 2011 and 2012, Santana was one of the Tribe’s top run producers, totaling a combined 45 homers and 155 RBI.
“He has a phenomenal eye at the plate, hits for power, a high average, and of course, he’s athletic,” Tribe designated hitter Jason Giambi said. “He can catch behind the plate; he’s worked really hard to get better and better at that. He can really put himself in the upper echelon of catchers.
“He constantly wants to learn, and that’s the exciting part. I think he’s starting to see that talent. I know when you come to the big leagues, you know what got you here — myself included. Now, he sees he can be really athletic and do a lot of great things, and I think he’s thirsting for that knowledge now.”
That knowledge has come, in part, from Santana asking Giambi and outfielder Michael Bourn for advice.
“I feel way [more] comfortable this year because Terry [Francona], and Sandy [Alomar] have helped me a lot, and that’s big,” Santana said. “I’m excited in Cleveland because the front office and the team gave me an opportunity in the beginning. I want to play here for all of my life because I am so comfortable.”
–TribeVibe contributor Megan Golden