CLEVELAND -- White Sox Minor League field coordinator Kirk Champion, who served as the organization's Minor League pitching coordinator for the past nine years, gives credit to current White Sox third-base coach Joe McEwing and Double-A Birmingham pitching coach Bobby Thigpen for the development of a young player such as Hector Santiago.
Thigpen served as Santiago's manager with Rookie League Bristol in 2007, and was his pitching coach with Class A Winston-Salem from '09-11. McEwing managed Santiago for two years with the Dash, and was one of the people an ecstatic Santiago contacted when getting called up last year.
These knowledgeable baseball men never really talked to Champion about Santiago closing. But they knew he possessed at least one prime intangible to work the ninth.
"I'm not sure if they thought he'd be pitching late in the day like he is now, but they never thought he would be afraid," Champion said. "He has always been a get-after-it kind of guy, sometimes to the point where he was a little jumpy and overanxious on the mound."
"They were always pushing for us," said Santiago of McEwing and Thigpen. "Being there for so long, you try to fight through it and do everything they ask of you to get a little more respect. They fight for their own guys when you come through the system like that."
Santiago started commanding his fastball better, worked in the screwball and proved more than worthy of that fight on his behalf.
"You see all the things he did well and why guys who managed him liked him," Champion said. "He just is an enjoyable guy to be around."