Believe The Hype: Carlos Santana Comes Better Than Advertised
It was a mild Saturday evening for a Cleveland Indians baseball game.
It was the night after Carlos Santana's much anticipated debut in Cleveland and the day before the Strasmas holiday hit Progressive Field, Strasmas Eve if you will.
Santana broke tradition by deciding to deliver his gift on Strasmas Eve, rather than waiting another day. When the ball hit off Smooth Swingin' Santana's bat in the fifth inning, you knew where its landing spot was going to be.
For a Saturday game, it was a small crowd. For a Saturday game in which the promotion was a Shin-Soo Choo bobblehead, it was a small crowd. But that small crowd witnessed the start of something a little special on June 12th, 2010.
I remember back to the day of Victor Martinez's major league debut. It was only one hit, but Martinez made it count as he knocked in two runs against Toronto in his mid-September major league debut.
This wasn't Santana's debut, but it certainly was his coming out party.
Santana stands at the plate like Martinez, holding the bat just as the Indians old catcher does. He is a switch hitter as well and he even sports the same jersey Martinez did a year ago, the number 41.
Sitting from my seat in right field on Friday, I could have sworn that it was eight years ago, when I was sitting in the same spot, watching Martinez make his debut.
In a way it was kind of eerie. It is 2010 and yet, here I am again, in the same section I was in 2002, watching this switch-hitting phenom of a catcher make his major league debut.
And then a day later, as I was coming back from the concession stands to get something to drink, I heard the thunderous crack of the bat and a follow up roar from the crowd.
I carefully power-walked with my filled cup over to where I could see the field and just in time I caught the ball clear the fences.
Although a bit younger, I still understood the magnitude of Victor Martinez's debut. It hit me that it was something special, something different.
That same buzz was in the air for Santana's debut and you could just tell right then and there, despite not doing what he did a night later, that this kid was different.
The crowds from both nights could sense it too; even the ones who may have been hearing his name for the first time. The fact that someone with a .000 average was hitting third in the lineup for a game in the middle of June may have clued even the most part-time Cleveland fan that this was something worth cheering about.
So we did.
Many people stood up and clapped for Santana on Friday, including myself, despite the fact that he hadn't played an inning at the major league level. Many did the same on Saturday night after he smacked a ball past first base and down the right field line for his first career hit and first pair of runs batted in.
The reception got even bigger when the Dominican product who had ignited a fan base just a few innings ago with his double, launched his first career home run over the right field wall.
On Strasmas a day later, Santana got the starting nod yet again. Manager Manny Acta decided to throw out the rule book and give Carlos the start behind the dish in a day game after a night game, most likely due to the magnitude of the match up between two phenoms.
With or without the day off on Monday, Acta's choice was the right one. This opportunity doesn't come around very often.
Santana won the battle over Strasburg, getting on base twice against the Nationals first overall pick in 2009. But Strasburg put on a strikeout clinic yet again despite walking a few more hitters than he would have liked and exiting the game in the sixth inning.
Quietly, outside of Cleveland at least, Santana goes on about his business. And now even quietly, with the hype wearing down, Carlos continues to play his game. What hasn't been mentioned yet is the reason that has been holding Santana away from that moment on June 11th, 2010.
His defense has been the reason the Indians have been slow to promote Santana, or at least one of the main reasons. With a bat that has been deemed major league ready over a year ago, calling a game and working on his foot work defensively have been two issues the Indians have focused on.
And in two games, Santana showed that those issues may have been greatly exaggerated, or else he's worked really hard to make them a non-issue.
In the first inning of Friday's game, Nyjer Morgan tested the arm of Santana, which in hindsight may have been a mistake. The Indians know Santana is armed with a cannon right arm, they just worry about him making accurate throws.
Worry no-longer. Santana wasted no time gunning down Morgan in the first inning. It seems as if Carlos was almost waiting for the opportunity to show off that arm and Morgan afforded him the opportunity to do so.
How about that game-calling ability?
While it still may be a work in progress, Santana's desire to learn and work ethic in terms of knowing what is going on with a hitter doesn't need to be questioned. Both Jake Westbrook, who started Friday, and Fausto Carmona, who started Saturday, did not shake off the rookie in his first two games.
Carmona even went out and threw a complete game in a matter of two hours, his best game of the season.
There is some serious legitimacy to the belief that Santana isn't some over-hyped prospect that is destined for mediocrity, but yet a big time bat with year-to-year All-Star potential.
Sometimes you can just tell with a player, before they even step up to take their first cuts in a major league batter's box, if they are made for this or not. With someone like Carlos Santana, we not only assume, we kind of know.
Did that belief exist with someone like Andy Marte? No, there was simply just a "hope" that surrounded him and his debut with Cleveland. The statement wasn't, "We can't wait to see this kid, because we know he's destined for great things," the statement read, "We can't wait to see him, because we hope it works out."
With Santana, we almost know it will work out because we believe we've seen this story before. It goes beyond the comparison to Victor Martinez, a switch-hitting Latin catcher that wears 41 and holds the bat up high at the plate.
It's just that feeling you get when you see someone special up at the plate and everyone else realizes it without having to be told. Scouts think they know it, management believes they know it, but only the fans actually do, and they're the only ones that don't have to actually watch the player hit before making that decision.
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