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Paying It Forward: A Collector's Dream

Ask any professional baseball player, young or old, and life growing up was pretty much the same: baseball around the clock. For my younger brother Anthony and I, that rang true. We spent the majority of our childhoods on a baseball diamond. Our father helped run our local Little League teams back home in Newark, New Jersey and in the summer months we would basically spend our time at a field from sunrise to sunset.

That much baseball might wear a kid out, but not me. Those early days with my dad and my brother left me wanting even more. To fill that void, I started collecting. Even when I wasn’t out on the field, I could still be around the game.

I had thousands of baseball cards (and had three full books of Pokémon cards, too…was always pretty pumped about that). And since I was a collector growing up, when I started seeing my own professional cards I couldn’t believe it. I never expected to see my own face on one of them. It made me appreciate how fortunate I am to be in the position I am as someone that kids can look up to.

I have had the privilege to pitch for two Major League teams over the last five years and I love collecting memorabilia now because it is a great way to remember where I have been and the great athletes I have had the honor to play with or against, or just to meet, even outside of baseball. It’s fun to have a nice room in your house where your family and friends can come together and enjoy it all, too.

The first signature I got was on a baseball from Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and a few other guys. When I got the baseballs back a teammate had gotten a jersey and I thought, “That's awesome I should do that.” From there my collection took off and I made a hobby out of it.

Over the years I have collected hundreds of signed jerseys, bats, baseballs, footballs, sneakers, boxing gloves and more. You name it and I probably have it. My favorite piece by far has to be my Michael Jordan autographed game-used court that I actually got from Steiner Sports!

The other side of this experience, of course, is being able to interact with fans, especially kids that are like I was growing up who love the game and love the opportunity to share a moment with a professional athlete. One of my favorite things to do, especially on game day, is stopping to take time out for the people hanging in the outfield seats that have been waiting out in the hot sun for a few hours just for a few seconds to say hello to me or a teammate and get something signed. 

It’s awesome. Looking at a kid’s face when this happens is like watching someone win a jackpot. Sometimes they don’t even know who signed their ball, but that’s okay because no matter what they are happy and have a memory to cherish.

People often ask me what the craziest thing I have ever signed is. It has to be a baby’s forehead. I didn’t want to, but the mom made me do it. No matter what I am signing, I am happy to do it because it brings me right back to when I was a little kid growing up in Newark with a just a dream of being able to pay it all forward one day.

Hector Santiago
Pitcher, Los Angeles Angels

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