White Sox

Santiago lends a hand in Newtown healing efforts

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Santiago lends a hand in Newtown healing efforts

Hector Santiago visited with Newtown, Conn. school kids nearly a month after the shooting, but evidence of the tragedy remains.

Earlier this month, the White Sox pitcher drove just over an hour from his home in New Jersey to visit students at St. Rose of Lima Church. As he exited his vehicle, Santiago recalls he immediately noticed a police car on campus. A short while later, Santiago, who is in competition for the fifth spot in the Sox rotation this spring, noticed another police car -- and then another.

"Every morning when they go to school they have to see that," Santiago said at SoxFest on Sunday. "Even if it's over, it happened, the tragedy is done, they're still affected by it. I'm sure they didn't have three police cars by their school (before). That can bring back memories."

Santiago wasn't directly affected by the events of Sept. 11, 2001. None of his family members was killed or injured in the catastrophe.

But living in Newark, N.J., Santiago's grade school had a view of the New York City skyline. He remembers how he could see smoke from the Twin Towers from his classroom and how a teacher's assistant believed her son, who worked at the World Trade Center, was in the buildings only to later learn he was safe because he had fallen asleep on the train and was late to work.

So as he flipped channels on Dec. 14 and came across news of the massacre that left 27 dead, including 20 first-graders, Santiago -- who was still in Puerto Rico -- began to experience the same emotions. Friends whom he was staying with raced out of their apartment to pick up their children from school. Santiago knew he needed to get involved. Five days later, he and his advisor decided they would try to arrange a visit.

More than a month later, Santiago was in Newtown but not certain what he should say to a group of mostly fourth through eighth graders. He was advised to introduce himself, tell the children his story, how he made the majors after six seasons in the minors and open the floor to questions. After his introduction, Santiago fielded questions for nearly an hour.

"At first you don't know what to say, what to expect, what the reaction will be," Santiago said. "They took off. It was 45 minutes of straight questions, no break, no hesitation. There were hands all the over the place. It was awesome."

Just like that, Santiago accomplished what he set out to do -- give the students a break from their reality. For 45 minutes there were no camera crews, no police cars and no stories revealing another detail of the tragedy.

"They were all smiling," Santiago said. "There were no sad faces. It felt like they didn't think about that when I was in there. They forgot about anything else outside of it, learned about baseball and talked about it. Just watching all those kids have fun was awesome."

In Astros' dominance, White Sox fans might catch a glimpse of their team's future

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USA TODAY

In Astros' dominance, White Sox fans might catch a glimpse of their team's future

It might end up an ugly week for the White Sox in Houston. But try to find some beauty in what this Astros team looks like. Because it's what the White Sox hope to look like, eventually.

While White Sox fans were likely staring with a frown at Brad Peacock mowing down their team's lineup and at a couple home runs absolutely blasted out of Minute Maid Park in the first of this four-game series Monday night, know that the inverse of that feeling is what the White Sox front office is hoping to deliver in the coming seasons.

The Astros, along with the Cubs on the North Side of Chicago, are the template for what the White Sox are trying to do with their ongoing rebuilding process. Houston experienced some hideous seasons on the way to becoming a perennial contender and a World Series champion in 2017, losing a combined 416 games in four seasons from 2011 to 2014. In 2015, the Astros made their first postseason appearance in a decade. Two years later, they were the world champs, and they remain an annual title contender and are currently the best team in baseball two years after that.

The first part of that should sound familiar, as the White Sox have lost a combined 195 games in the two seasons since this rebuild officially began. Things are better now than they were during last year's 100-loss campaign, but it's expected to be another season of more losses than wins and another season without a playoff berth on the South Side, which would be the franchise's 11th straight to end without a trip to the postseason.

The second half of the Astros rags-to-riches story is yet to come for the White Sox, who are still waiting for young players to develop at both the major league and minor league levels, still waiting for the entire core to assemble in the big leagues. That includes, right now, waiting for certain players to recover from serious injuries. That includes watching growing pains up and down the organization. It's not unexpected for such things to happen in the middle of a rebuild. But when mired in the losing years, they become constant sources of frustration for fans.

Just like no one in Houston looks back fondly on the 100-loss seasons of 2011, 2012 and 2013, it's unlikely South Side baseball fans will look back fondly on these loss-heavy campaigns. But it's part of the process, as maddening as that might be to keep hearing.

Fortunately, there are examples of what the end of the tunnel looks like, and the White Sox are up against one of those examples this week. The Astros are dominating the competition so far this season, their young core of sluggers and a few overpowering starting pitchers fueling the best team in baseball. George Springer and Jose Altuve might have been out of the lineup Monday night, but Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman were still on display. And none of those guys were the ones to blast home runs halfway to Oklahoma off the White Sox on Rick Renteria's otherwise successful bullpen day. Peacock was traded a few times before landing in Houston, and Justin Verlander and Geritt Cole were trade acquisitions, as well. All of those guys have made the Astros a formidable force once again.

The White Sox are likely going to have to make a few outside acquisitions, too, before they can finally reach baseball's mountaintop. General manager Rick Hahn says that's the plan. But the homegrown portion of those rosters of the future could resemble what the Astros have put together in recent seasons. Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert, Tim Anderson, Yoan Moncada, Nick Madrigal, Zack Collins. That's the planned core on the South Side. And Hahn has a number of young pitchers who could make up a fearsome rotation, too, in Michael Kopech, Dylan Cease, Dane Dunning, Reynaldo Lopez and Lucas Giolito. There are more names White Sox fans are familiar with who could play big roles, too.

That's a lot of talent, and while White Sox fans might remain skeptical until the wins start coming at an increased rate, the blueprint is there for those pieces to come together and create something special. The blueprint is what's across the field from the White Sox this week in Houston.

The Astros might cause some bad feelings for the White Sox and their fans over the next few nights. But if they look closely, they might catch a glimpse of the White Sox future if this rebuild goes where Hahn & Co. envision it going.

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Eloy Jimenez returns to White Sox a little more than three weeks after spraining ankle

Eloy Jimenez returns to White Sox a little more than three weeks after spraining ankle

Things looked grim when Eloy Jimenez, the White Sox top-ranked prospect and a centerpiece of the South Side rebuilding plans, was down in pain on the warning track.

But a little more than three weeks later, Jimenez is back in the lineup, returned from his stay on the injured list for the start of a four-game series against the Houston Astros.

Jimenez made a leaping attempt to catch a home-run ball in the April 26 game against the Detroit Tigers. In the process, his foot got stuck in the padding of the left-field wall, and the 22-year-old suffered a high ankle sprain. He limped off the field and needed help getting into the dugout and clubhouse. Thoughts of "here we go again" flashed through a fan base that's watched top prospects suffer one significant injury after another in recent seasons.

The White Sox said Jimenez would be reevaluated in a couple weeks, while cursory Google searches revealed recovery times of more than a month for this type of injury.

But Jimenez seems to have healed quickly. He went on a minor league rehab assignment last week, playing in five games with Triple-A Charlotte before being deemed ready to return Monday.

This is phenomenal news for the White Sox and their fans, of course, who in the time Jimenez has been sidelined have seen another key piece go down with Carlos Rodon's Tommy John surgery. Jimenez hasn't got off to the rip-roaring start some predicted — he's slashed .241/.294/.380 with a trio of home runs in his first 21 major league games — but all playing time for the youngster is good playing time as he continues his development in his first big league season. Throw in Jimenez's four-game stay on the bereavement list prior to that game against Detroit, and he's had just one at-bat since April 21.

So maybe expect some rust, and manager Rick Renteria said Jimenez could perhaps be eased back with a game at DH here and there as he continues to work on improving his defense in left field.

Jimenez did go 7-for-22 (a .318 batting average) with a homer and a double in his rehab stint in Charlotte. Now he's back in the major league outfield, a good thing for everyone following along with this rebuild.

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