The special bond between Cruz and Santana

August 5th, 2023

This story was excerpted from Justice delos Santos’ Pirates Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

MILWAUKEE -- As the Brewers took batting practice on Thursday afternoon at American Family Field, took a knee beside . Cruz, 24, mostly listened; Santana, 37, mostly talked.

The two are no longer teammates, with Santana having been traded prior to the Deadline, but as their interaction before Thursday’s game showed, their relationship as mentor and mentee is just getting started.

“I had just a little bit of playing time with him because I got hurt, but it was a blessing to have Carlos there as a mentor, especially when it came to being injured,” Cruz said through team interpreter Stephen Morales. “He went through that before, and for him to be a mentor and give me advice on how to deal with the situation was huge for me.”

During Santana’s time with the Pirates, he and Cruz were practically tied together at the hip. During Spring Training, Cruz and Santana had lockers right next to one another, just like in the Pirates’ clubhouse in PNC Park. It was a common occurrence for them to engage in conversation for lengthy periods of time, Santana initiating the conversation and Cruz soaking up the wisdom.

“He has great ability,” Santana said. “He’s a monster. He’s a great player. He’s tough. We see how he comes back.”

The seeds of their relationship were sown before Santana joined the organization. Cruz was playing winter ball in the Dominican Republic for Tigres del Licey when Santana signed a one-year, $6.725 million deal to join the Pirates. When the news broke, several of Cruz’s teammates with Tigres del Licey told Cruz to gravitate toward Santana, telling Cruz that Santana was a great teammate and an amazing source of information. Cruz got in contact with Santana and the two worked out together in Florida prior to Spring Training.

The two will work out together in Florida during the offseason, and while they no longer see each other every day, Cruz plans on connecting with Santana as frequently as possible throughout the season.

“He’s a veteran that has been in the big leagues for 14 years,” Cruz said. “I’m going to continue to learn a lot of things from him, and he’s a good example of what a veteran looks like in the big leagues.”

Added manager Derek Shelton, “I think the biggest thing that he did is, number one, he showed them what it’s like to work. If you spend any time around Carlos Santana, the way he prepares, the way he takes care of his body, it’s elite. It’s why he’s still doing what he’s doing at 37 years old. The other side of it is he helped them all grow up a little bit. When you go through the game, it’s a challenge. In Oneil’s case, it’s a challenge this year because he’s dealing with an injury. Having someone like Carlos there to help that maturation process was really important.”

Cruz and Santana won’t don the same colors for the remainder of the season, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a possibility down the road. Santana not only expressed his fondness for his time in Pittsburgh, but his desire to once again be a Pirate.

“It’s a business,” Santana said. “I want to come back, but we’ll see. It’s in the past. I’m here now. I’m going to try to finish my season strong and help [the Brewers] make the playoffs. That’s why they brought me here, for help.”

As far as the aforementioned left ankle injury, Cruz, who hasn't played since April 9, said he mentally feels “200 percent." Cruz has yet to begin a rehab assignment and likely won't return in August as originally anticipated, but the shortstop has slowly begun more baseball activities in recent weeks.

“It was what it was,” Cruz said. “I got hurt. That’s some stuff that, as a player, we have to go through. You just have confront it and move forward."

Whenever Cruz does make his way back onto a Major League diamond, it won't be surprising if Santana is one of the first people to congratulate his mentee on his return back.