Santiago ready for triumphant return at SSU

PORTSMOUTH — To survive and thrive in the world of sports, one can’t be a stranger to adversity.

Puerto Rico native Javier Santiago is certainly familiar with dealing with setbacks.

However, Santiago’s maintained a good attitude throughout his journey.

It’s arguably the reason why Santiago — a transfer from Benedict College in Columbia, S.C. — was regarded in a strong manner by the Shawnee State coaching staff.

The NCAA Division II transfer will be eligible for his final two seasons of action with the Bears beginning with the Spring 2021 season.

“It means a great deal,” Santiago said of his opportunity to play at Shawnee State. “I suffered a broken hand last year, which kept me out of baseball for seven months, so to see that I have another chance to do what I love in a good program feels like a blessing.”

Santiago, who is from the capital city of San Juan, attended the well-renown Puerto Rico Baseball Academy and High School — the same place where future 2017 All-Star and World Series Champion Carlos Correa (Houston Astros), along with 2018 World Series Champion Christian Vasquez (Boston Red Sox), attended.

While his play has been halted over the past few months due to a broken hand and the current circumstances as part of COVID-19, Santiago showed clear flashes of the kind of player that Shawnee State will be getting in the near future upon his arrival at Benedict.

After hitting .274 with two home runs, 11 RBI and a .803 .OPS in 25 games during his freshman season, Santiago improved significantly as a sophomore by raising his batting average by 46 points to a .320 mark at the dish — all while hitting for four home runs and 40 RBI in his sophomore campaign.

Santiago also raised his .OPS to a strong .924 during his sophomore year in 2019.

Overall, Santiago ended up leading Benedict in home runs while finishing second on the squad in RBI, fifth in batting average and sixth in .OPS under the direction of former professional baseball player Selwyn Young, who played inside the Oakland A’s minor league system.

He also proved to be outstanding defensively, posting a .972 fielding percentage and committing just five errors in 179 defensive chances despite playing back at the catcher position — arguably the hardest position of any to play from a defensive standpoint.

His performance with the Tigers led to an opportunity to play for the Genesee Rapids in Houghton, N.Y. last summer, but the hand injury suffered during his time in the New York Collegiate Baseball League — and subsequent setbacks on his rehab — forced Santiago into the road less traveled.

However, despite sitting out of the game for seven months, and gaining 40 pounds during his time away from the game, Santiago says that he’s shedded the weight that he gained from his time away from baseball.

“Thanks to God, I shed those pounds,” Santiago said. “I’m working out toward improving my body even better than before.”

Beyond wanting to get better at the game; however, Santiago is simply thrilled to have the opportunity to continue his education.

If the route of professional baseball doesn’t pan out in the future, the future Bear hopes to become a sports journalist in the future.

“As a student-athlete, I want to improve academically and athletically, so that I can either become a professional baseball player or a sports journalist when my time ends in college,” Santiago said. “I hope that I can provide my team with good numbers and strong performances to demonstrate how grateful that I am for the opportunity of being part of the program. Academically, I’ve always been pretty good, so I want to keep that reputation and open my mind to new information about my major and other areas of study.”

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