Ramon Santiago (Photo: Mariners)
When the M's traded SS Carlos Guillen to the Detroit Tigers for Ramon Santiago and minor league infielder Juan Gonzalez, Mariner fans wondered what they got in return for one of their regulars over the past four seasons. What they got was a decent prospect in Gonzalez and a hard- working, defensive wizard in Santiago. Santiago's quest to become a full-time big leaguer lives on in every move he makes in the minors.
Back in March, Ramon Santiago was making the most of every opportunity thrown his way in his first Spring Training with the Mariners. As the new guy on the club, acquired two months earlier in the Carlos Guillen deal, Santiago hit the ball as well as anyone on the team, opening eyes with his bat and his sure-handed defense.
When Spring Training ended, though, the 24-year-old shortstop was left on the outside looking in, sent down to Triple-A Tacoma. And while it was Hiram Bocachica who got most of the attention for his demotion to the Rainiers, Santiago found himself in the same situation only without the fanfare.
Fast-forward three months to present day, and Santiago has already been called up to the Mariners twice but been optioned back to Tacoma
each time. Stuck in the land of the "Four-A Player," in between Triple-A and the majors, the personable Dominican Republic native says the rollercoaster ride of 2004 hasn't fazed him.
"I understand the situation," he said last week, talking to InsidethePark.com after batting practice at Cheney Stadium. "They signed (Rich) Aurilia for a year. He's got to play. It doesn't bother me. They called me up, and every time I went up it was nice. It was a good time."
Santiago spent each of the last two seasons primarily in the major leagues, playing at a young age for a Detroit organization thin both
in depth and experience. Still a youngster, the infielder just wants to continue to get playing time, even if it means having to do so in
the minor leagues.
"I'd rather stay down here and play every day than be in the major leagues and have to sit on the bench," said Santiago. "It's better for me and better for my career. When you don't play, you lose your game."
To be in a place like Fenway Park one night and somewhere like Fresno, Calif. playing in the minors the next isn't exactly an easy adjustment
to make, but Santiago has grown used to his unique situation. He knows he's always a phone call away from the Mariners, and in the mean
time he says his focus is on improving his hitting.
Since Spring Training, his hot-hitting bat has left him, and while a wizard defensively at shortstop all season long, he's currently
batting just .161 in 161 at bats with the Rainiers. He knows that needs to improve in order to stick with the big league club.
"I'm not hitting very good for average right now," he said. "I think I can do better on that so I'm going to keep working on my hitting and
every aspect of my game."
The calls up to the big leagues have been both helpful and detrimental to his cause. Rubbing shoulders with guys like Edgar Martinez and
Ichiro Suzuki, becoming a sponge and soaking up all he can remember, is never a bad thing, but at the same time being up with the Mariners also means very little playing time for Santiago.
"This year is a little tough for me because I appreciate that they called me up a couple times," said Santiago. "I had a pretty good
spring training and they've given me an opportunity. I need to keep working hard and doing my best.
"Playing in the major leagues, so you learn what it takes to make it both mentally and physically. When I am up with the team in Seattle, I learn a lot from guys like Edgar and Ichiro. I learn how they prepare and how they are consistent every day."
The days spent in Detroit are now a ways in the rear view mirror, and while Santiago says he misses his friends and all those he knew in the
organization, he can't think of anything better than a chance to improve and one day be a member of the Seattle Mariners again.
This time, for good.
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