INDIANAPOLIS – His journey is almost complete, just two steps left.
Edgar Santana’s unlikely rise to the major leagues culminated with his call-up by the Pirates prior to Saturday’s game. Now, the relief pitcher has two important goals left to accomplish.
One is rather general and will likely be accomplished soon: pitch in a major league game.
The second goal might take a little more time: pitch in a major league game with his mother watching in the stands. She has never seen him pitch a game, although the two communicate daily via phone.
“That’s going to mean a lot to me,” Santana said. “I play baseball because I love baseball, but I play also because I want to make my family proud of me. My mom feels really good when I say I did good today. She says she wants to see me play in the big leagues. I want that to happen.”
The journey of Santana has been told several times and it might become the next feel-good individual story from the Pirates this season. Dovydas Neverauskas became the first Lithuanian-born players to play in the major leagues, and Gift Ngoepe followed by becoming the first African-born player to play in the major leagues.
And now, here’s Santana: a late-bloomer signed out of Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic, as an international free agent as he was just turning 22 years old. Young in the scope of life, but old in baseball years for his experience level.
Santana’s parents did not think pursuing a baseball career was a good idea. They didn’t have anything against the game, rather, they didn’t think it was a viable career option. After all, it wasn’t a game Santana had ever played in an organized setting. No fields were nearby where Santana lived, so there wasn’t even a place to practice baseball.
Most players without experience are signed when they’re 16 years old, not 22. His friends instead played softball. Nothing too organized, rather just a way to have fun.
But a trainer saw Santana throw from the outfield while playing softball and was impressed. And then he saw Santana knock a coconut out of a tree with a rock. Apparently knocking a coconut out of a tree with a rock isn’t easy, and Santana admits he can’t do it with every throw. But with a good arm it’s possible.
That was all the trainer needed to see to be intrigued. He convinced Santana to take some throws off a pitching mound. His first pitch was clocked in the mid-80s. After several tryouts without any results, Santana finally found an organization when Pittsburgh signed him in October 2013.
Santana’s life was headed to college, where he was going to become a teacher. His father is a housekeeper at a hotel and his mother manages the home. But baseball provided him a different career path.
“I had to do that because that was the only option I had,” Santana said. “I wanted to make my family proud and that’s why I wanted to do that.”
So far, so good. Santana has flown through the minor league levels, advancing to Pittsburgh in just 3-plus seasons at the lower levels. He had 1.93 ERA in 23 appearances with Triple-A Indianapolis prior to his promotion.
The baseball career is working out for Santana, but it comes with a large sacrifice: he doesn’t see his parents in person during the season. Santana and his mother communicate using the WhatsApp application, allowing voice and text messages to be sent to phones with an internet connection.
“When I wake up in the morning I might have two or three or four minutes of messages from my mom,” Santana said. “She’ll say, ‘I know you’re sleeping, but I wanted to say I love you,’ or ‘Have a nice day,’ or ‘I hope you do well today.’”
That’s the motivation for Santana: making his family proud. He’s done that by reaching the major leagues. Now, he wants to stick with the Pirates long-term. And that would allow Santana to achieve one of his most important goals: pitch in the major leagues with his mother watching in the stands.