López 'starstruck' by Johan Santana wearing his jersey

October 23rd, 2023

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The Twins definitely leaned hard into the nostalgia factor in October as they battled first for an end to their playoff losing streak, then for an extended run into the postseason.

It started with ace notably arriving at Target Field in the jersey of , his childhood idol, before his start in Game 1 of the Wild Card Series, during which he pitched the Twins to their first playoff win since Santana's Game 1 victory in the 2004 ALDS.

And when Tom Kelly, Kent Hrbek, Justin Morneau, Ron Gardenhire, Gary Gaetti, Dan Gladden, Joe Mauer and Santana all got involved in ceremonial first pitches during the WCS and Division Series, the Twins took advantage of a neat opportunity to bring López’s gesture full circle.

Before Santana delivered the first pitch to Mauer ahead of Game 3 of the ALDS, the Twins asked López to bring the baseball to Santana -- and before López got there, Santana held up a hand, gesturing him to wait, and took off his jacket to reveal López’s jersey underneath.

López stood, stunned, and a grin broke out on his face when he realized what was happening.

“I was really, really surprised,” López said. “I thought that was really freaking cool. … I was a little starstruck.”

As soon as López arrived to the Twins in the offseason trade that sent Luis Arraez to Miami, the right-hander noted that the Minnesota organization was particularly significant to him because he idolized Santana growing up. Back when López was a young baseball fan growing up in Venezuela, he knew Santana as “El Gocho,” a term referring to people from the Andean mountainous region of the country.

López and his dad would sit together and watch baseball games -- and they watched the legend of Santana grow, from the wipeout changeup to the two Cy Young Awards to the 17-strikeout game. Years later, in the Twins' same uniform, of course López would want to channel Santana in the biggest start of his life.

“Being the gentleman and the pro that he is, he acknowledged when I wore his jersey last week, and the fact that he wanted to do something similar just goes to show that he has not lost his professionalism, how kind-hearted he is,” López said. “He knew that could have been something that I would have appreciated. Yes. Yes, I definitely do.”

“When I talked to him at the WBC about the whole thing and how important I was for his career and everything, it meant a lot to me,” Santana said. “There’s nothing I can do but to be grateful about the whole thing.”

The nostalgia didn’t end up helping the Twins in the ALDS; as Santana addressed the media in the aftermath of that first pitch, Houston jumped out to a 4-0 lead before he even finished his interview.

But perhaps it will in the future, and Santana’s pride will be with López and the Twins, however far they go.

“We look up to somebody all the time,” Santana said. “When I was young, I remember Andrés Galarraga being one of the heroes from Venezuela. Omar Vizquel. You always wanted to be like them.

“I'm very proud of him, because as a Venezuelan, he makes a lot of people proud. Not just home here in Minnesota, but there's a whole country watching him and supporting him. I'm one of them. I'm very proud of him, too.”