Growing up in Newark, a young Hector Santiago would amble over to Ironbound's Independence Park and watch his father and his friends play softball until dusk.
Santiago was not just content to watch. He wanted to play catch with the older men.
From those early games, a passion for baseball was born within Santiago, a southpaw (left-handed pitcher) who went on to play in little league and in high school. In 2006, he was drafted by the Chicago White Sox in the 30th round of the June Amateur Draft.
After playing on four farm teams over the last several years, all that hard work has paid off. Santiago was called up by the White Sox to play in the major leagues last Sunday.
"I was surprised, shocked, happy, and overjoyed," said Santiago, a 23-year-old Puerto Rican-American and Newark native, who is 6-5 with a 4.08 ERA and 73 strikeouts in 2011, according to Baseball Reference statistics. He played on four farm teams, including Winston-Salem and Birmingham, before reaching the major leagues.
His father, also named Hector Santiago, was enormously proud of his son when he heard the news.
"Excited for him and proud to be his father," said Santiago's dad. "He worked hard for this."
Santiago's baseball roots began in the Ironbound, where he and his family initially lived, he said. Santiago is one of four children.
"Whenever he was in park, I would be in park," said Santiago about his father and his softball friends.
Santiago got to play in the Ironbound little league and continued playing baseball when the family moved to the North Ward, he said. Santiago was part of the Roberto Clemente Little League and the Rick Cerone Little League.
His father said he was heavily involved in his son's development by coaching him through little league and to this day is still involved in the sport, serving as umpire for games and sitting on the North Ward Center's recreation committee.
Santiago became part of the North Ward Center's RBI baseball team as a teenager as well, said Rashard Casey, North Ward Center recreation director.
"Hector has no problem with hard work," said Casey. "He has so much passion for this game."
Santiago went to Essex Catholic High School as a freshman and then Bloomfield Technology High School for the remainder of his high school years, he said. He was drafted by the White Sox while a high school senior and signed with them after his freshman year at then Okaloosa-Walton College, which has since been renamed Northwest Florida State College.
Besides Santiago, his youngest brother, Anthony Santiago, a college catcher, is vying to be drafted by a Major League baseball team, according to the family.