COMPTON, Calif. -- Before Sunday, the highlight of Samantha Santana's trip from New York to the Los Angeles area was a base hit in her team's opening game of the Jennie Finch Classic softball tournament.
Then again, the team's trip to Dodger Stadium for All-Star Saturday festivities was a memorable bonding time as well.
Yet it was all topped and then some Sunday when Finch herself announced the 16-year-old Santana as the second of four Jennie Finch Empowerment Award winners this year.
Santana, who plays with DREAM RBI from the Bronx and Harlem, N.Y., was nominated for the award for her accomplishments outside of athletics like her academic prowess, along with her affinity for dance. She also has been a drill captain with the Youth Police Academy at Manhattan South YTA, participating in the program for three years.
Sunday's award came with a $10,000 scholarship courtesy Arm & Hammer, as well as a trip to the upcoming World Series.
"I do feel honored and feel as though I'm happy for myself, but I feel that my parents are happy as well that I was able to accomplish this," said Santana, whose parents are also in California for the trip.
Hopeful of attending UCLA in the future, picking up a generous scholarship in the Los Angeles area was a bit serendipitous for Santana, who attends Millennium High School in Manhattan.
"It was their softball history," Santana said about how UCLA became her dream school. "I've looked up to [former four-time UCLA All-American] Rachel Garcia a lot. Being able to watch her in the College World Series has inspired me a lot to try and go to that school."
Garcia not only led the Bruins on the field, she is now a volunteer assistant coach at San Diego State. Much in the same way Garcia is a leader, Santana has shown the same traits.
"It's both her leadership and her motivation," DREAM RBI coach Ashley Alcantara said about Santana. "Everything she does on and off the field, she is always present. She is always somebody you can count on and I love the fact that she is willing to learn new things from other people. She is so humble and her approach to everything is amazing."
Finch, a standout in softball at Arizona as well as a two-time Olympic medalist, still has two more empowerment awards to hand out this year, with each occasion a moment to savor.
"It's a dream to be able to encourage the next generation and to be able to shine a light on these incredible young ladies," Finch said. "I always say, I'm the one brought in to inspire and encourage, but I always leave just being more inspired and more motivated to do more for the next generation because of what these young girls do and what they overcome day in and day out."
This year's Jennie Classic returned to its usual spot during MLB All-Star week, after a two-year pandemic-related disruption. The event consists of 10 softball teams from each of MLB's academes in urban communities across the country.
In Santana's mind, a cross-country summer trip to play softball was a thrill in itself. It has turned into so much more. Asked what dance, working with the youth police academy and playing softball all had in common, Santana's award qualifications became clear.
"They all have in common that you have to work as a team together," Santana said. "You have to be able to help each other out and guide each other to a common goal."