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Santiago's efforts earn Clemente Award nomination

Left-handed hurler seeks out opportunities to get involved in community

CHICAGO -- There are some in the White Sox front office who refer to Hector Santiago as their "yes man," and it has nothing to do with his on-field contributions.

"Everything they ask me, it was kind of like, 'Yeah, yeah, I'm in,'" said a smiling Santiago prior to Monday's game with the Twins, referring to his giving back to Chicago communities. "I try to do everything.

"They try to avoid me on start days. And I was like, 'Don't worry about it. I'm up and moving around anyway.' It's not a big deal if I have to do something."

Santiago's community involvement began last season as a rookie. The 25-year-old was trying to get his feet under him at the Major League level, but he already fit in the White Sox culture of giving back.

That spirit of giving hasn't changed in his first year as a member of the starting rotation. It's that spirit that has placed Santiago as the White Sox nominee for the 2013 Roberto Clemente Award, announced on Monday.

"Being nominated is an honor," Santiago said. "There are so many other guys to pick from in here. Them actually going out and picking me is nice. It's awesome."

Tuesday is Roberto Clemente Day throughout Major League Baseball, a day instituted on the 30th anniversary of his passing in 1972 to keep alive Clemente's spirit of giving.

Voting runs from Sept. 17 through Oct. 6 at as fans help decide which of those 30 club winners will receive this prestigious recognition. The nominees were chosen based on their dedication to giving back to the community, as well as their outstanding ability on the field.

Entering the final two weeks of the 2013 campaign, Santiago holds a 4-9 record and 3.53 ERA. He has a 3.47 ERA in 22 starts, with 121 strikeouts over 124 1/3 innings. It also was Santiago who made an offseason trip to a church in Newtown, Conn., in order to help the healing process after the tragic Sandy Hook shootings. He contacted the White Sox community relations department and had 300-400 pictures sent to him to sign, although he was prepared to bring his own baseball cards and pictures.

In 2012, Santiago developed "Santiago's Soldiers," a program that supports children and families dealing with illness by inviting them to games. He also supports a variety of White Sox Charities efforts, assisted in community service days, and attended Signing Day 2012, in which White Sox Amateur City Elite members signed their letters of intent to play college baseball.

As a proud native of Newark, N.J., Santiago was a 13-year-old eighth-grader at Luis Munoz Marin Middle School in Newark, sitting in Ms. Foster's class on Sept. 11, 2001, when life changed. He saw the World Trade Center Towers go up in smoke in New York from his school, and they were coming down by the time he made it home.

On the 12th anniversary of the atrocities, Santiago joined assistant hitting coach Harold Baines and members of the White Sox Volunteer Corps in partnering with the USO of Illinois to serve lunch to approximately 120 guests of the USO at the Donnelly Armory on Chicago's South Side. Santiago signed autographs and took pictures for individuals representing nearly every military discipline.

"It's not anything that people have had to push him to be able to do nice things," said White Sox manager Robin Ventura. "Even last year, he was doing a lot of that stuff on his own. That's just the kind of kid he is.

"Some people are able to do that right from the get-go and have that about them that they can do two things at once. It's part of his upbringing, and I think his parents did a good job. He's aware of a lot of different things. He's compassionate and competitive, those things go together. But he's a giver."

One of Santiago's ultimate goals is to build a Little League baseball field near his hometown. He understands that's a long-term project. He also knows the significance of the Clemente name and is honored to be associated.

"Like I've said before, I just kind of grew up with it around me," Santiago said. "I had a bunch of people that always kind of helped out. Whether it was fixing the field, giving 40 or 50 bucks to get a team a shirt or sponsor it a little bit.

"Now, I'm in the situation where I can help out and do a little bit more. I've always wanted to do it since I was young. I kind of wanted to give back. Building that field I wanted to do or just making a phone call to somebody."

Scott Merkin is a reporter for Read his blog, Merk's Works, and follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin.

Chicago White Sox, Hector Santiago