For Anthony and Hector Santiago Jr., playing baseball together is a black and white kind of thing.
The Newark brothers grew up playing for North Ward little league teams and even competed together for county and state titles at Bloomfield Tech (with Anthony catching southpaw Hector Jr.). Now, the two have the rare chance to reunite again on the diamond – this time in the big leagues.
Anthony, 22, inked a minor-league deal with the Chicago White Sox last weekend, the same team his older brother, 24,
"Just to think that one day I might actually be able to (play with him) again, in front of 40,000 fans, I pray for that to happen," said Anthony sporting a black and white Sox cap and t-shirt. "My brother's like my best friend … He always told me, 'You can play at this level, you're definitely just as good as any of these players or better.'"
Hector Jr.'s draft by the White Sox as a high school senior and pushed Anthony to work harder behind the plate at the College of Central Florida, garnering him attention from a handful of scouts, like the Los Angeles Angels. As a Patriot this past season, Anthony batted .253 in 29 games and closed out the season with a .979 fielding percentage.
But when Anthony learned he wouldn't be part of this year's Major League Baseball draft, his hopes of being fast-tracked to pro ball all but fizzled. That's when he got a late-night phone call last Saturday telling him to pack his bags.
"I was just in complete shock," said Anthony of getting the offer with the rookie team, the Bristol White Sox, in Virginia.
He isn't the only one still reeling from the news. His father, Hector Sr., who threw a party Thursday in Anthony's honor at the North Ward Center recreational center at St. Lucy's Church, shook his head in disbelief that his second son is moving onto the minors.
"Anthony deserves this," said Hector Sr. "To see this happen is a dream come true."
A 25-year baseball coach and umpire for North Ward teams, Hector Sr. coached his sons in their formative years never thinking both could wind up appearing in the majors at the same time, let alone for the same team.
"You could tell they had it in them to play ball," said the proud father, who has always reminded his sons to never forget their Newark roots.
In fact, Hector Jr., who recorded his first major-league save against the Texas Rangers in April, will return for a visit to Newark June 30. He had told the Chicago Tribune in March that he'd like to one day donate a baseball facility to his native North Ward.
Dozens of family members and friends feted Anthony Thursday in the gymnasium adorned with black and white balloons and pictures of the young catcher. Among guests were North Ward Councilman Anibal Ramos Jr., Essex County Freeholder Rolando Bobadilla and former Bloomfield Tech baseball coach Dan Romano, who coached both Santiago siblings.
"It's always a reach to ever figure a kid will go to the majors. But you knew when you saw both of them play that they were special," said Romano, now the school's athletic director. He added that Anthony is an "outstanding defenseman."
The Santiago brothers would hardly be the first siblings to play on the same major league team at the same time, according to Baseball Almanac. The site lists more than 350 brother combinations that have played in the majors. All three Alou brothers – Felipe, Matty and Jesus – played together for the San Francisco Giants in 1963.
Shipping out Friday for the minors, Anthony will hit the bases running with his new team, which opens its season June 19. Already, the catcher is itching for major league action.
"I know I can hit at the pro level. I've traveled the world. I've faced players that are in the big leagues right now," he said, adding that attending two training camps in the Dominican Republic helped ready him for his journey to the majors.
"I don't care how it came about or where I was when I got the chance," he said, "as long as I've got the opportunity to play and prove myself."
[Editor's note: Anthony's Santiago's age was incorrect in a previous version of this story.]