Sergio Santos has travelled a long and winding road since graduating from Mater Dei in 2002.
The path has seen him rise and fall as a top shortstop prospect in the minor leagues, reinvent himself as a hard-throwing relief pitcher and then deal with a series of arm injuries that, once again, nearly knocked him out of the game.
Today, Santos is back in Southern California and playing baseball at the highest level. He’s a right-handed reliever for the Los Angeles Dodgers, helping them to the third-best record in the Majors at the start of last week.
Santos remains Mater Dei’s all-time leader in a number of offensive categories, including runs scored for a season (43) and career (119), and is the only Mater Dei graduate to earn a win at the Major League level.
Santos remembers his time at Mater Dei just like most students; attending Friday night football games and school dances in the auditorium.
He also remembers the comfort of knowing there was plenty of spiritual support on campus, especially when times got tense and stressful. One particularly trying time was Sept. 11, 2001, when Santos was just beginning his senior year.
“Just being able to have a chapel or church on campus and be able to have that outlet and be able to go to that, I know, for me, it was big,” he says.
The Arizona Diamondbacks selected Santos in the first round of the 2002 draft and it seemed only a matter of time before he’d be playing at the big league level. He shot up the minor league system until he reached AAA, the final tier before the majors, but suddenly found the pitching too much to overcome.
He was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays in 2005 and claimed off waivers by the Minnesota Twins three years later. By then, he had a wife and two children and was forced to work off-season construction jobs just to pay the bills.
Santos was invited to spring training with the Chicago White Sox in 2009 and that’s when members of the organization suggested he try pitching, something he hadn’t done since his freshman year at Mater Dei. He was hesitant at first but eventually bought into the idea.
The following year he made the opening-day roster for the White Sox, and his Major League debut came on April 8, 2010, nearly eight years after he was drafted. In 2011, he became the full-time closer for the White Sox and produced 30 saves, helping him earn a three-year $8.25 million contract.
Surprisingly, he was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays shortly after signing the deal and that’s when his arm troubles began to arise, as he was limited to 61 appearances over the next three seasons. He became a free agent last winter and the Dodgers took a chance on him, signing him to a base salary of $1 million this season, with incentives that could earn him up to $3.05 million.
He says he hasn’t had a chance to return to Mater Dei in recent years, but if he’s still with the Dodgers in September when they play a three-game series at Angel Stadium, he hopes pay a visit to his old campus.
“It definitely shaped and influenced who I am,” Santos says.