Friday, December 21, 2007

Santana joining Miners coaching staff

By Justin Walker, Marion Daily Republican

MARION — Ralph Santana spent a lot of time either on first base or a few feet away during the Southern Illinois Miners' inaugural season. He'll continue that trend in the Frontier League squad's second year — in foul territory.

Santana has been hired as a member of the Miners coaching staff, team manager Mike Pinto said. The former second baseman and leadoff hitter will man the first base box and serve as the team's running and infielders coach.

“I like the way they treated me here last year,” Santana said in a press release issued by the team. “I want to stick around and help this team win a championship. I’m looking forward to being a coach and helping these guys get better any way I can.”

Pinto coached Santana while both were with the Sioux Falls Canaries of the American Association and Pinto worked for several months to make Santana a member of the Miners' first team.

Santana quickly became a fan favorite and was one of six Miners named to the Frontier League All-Star Game and the team's lone representative on the postseason All-Star squad.

"I've watched Ralph for two years and watched him mature," Pinto said. "But mostly I've come to watch how he really has a great baseball intelligence. He has baseball smarts. He looks for the little things in the game that will give us an advantage to win.

"And he's a very hard worker. He will work our young guys strongly so they have a lot to look forward to. He will take care of them."

Last year's first base coach, Bart Zeller, will remain a member of the coaching staff along with pitching coach Brad Hall and bullpen coach Sean Patrick, Pinto said. Frontier League rules allow a team as many coaches as its budget will allow.

The 27-year-old Santana exceeded the Frontier League age limit after spending just one year with the Miners. It was the last of seven years in professional baseball, where he compiled a career batting average of .298 and ripped 740 hits.

Santana, a lefthanded batter and righthanded thrower, had more hits than anyone in the Frontier League last season (126) and held a batting average of .342 that was third-best in the league. The Orlando, Fla., native was a big reason why the Miners had the league's highest hit total (936) and finished second in team batting average (.282).

Santana stole a team-high 25 bases last season in addition to knocking in 47 runs — including three home runs — while battling nagging injuries.

He also recorded 270 putouts at second base, often making tough plays look routine. Statistics provided to Pinto by the Frontier League show that Santana had 47 more putouts than the next closest second baseman.

Although Santana's playing days in the Frontier League are over, he could have pursued joining a team in another independent league — former Miners outfielder Andre Marshall has signed with the St. Paul Saints of the American Association, for example — but after chasing his dream for seven years, has decided to take another route.

"He certainly could've played a number of places and I've received a number of calls," Pinto said. "But I think he's at the point where he has nothing else to prove and has decided to look at the next stage of his life."

Santana has also begun assisting with speed and agility training with Born Athletic, Inc. in Marion, a company expanded earlier this month by owner Dr. Toby Brooks.

The Miners begin their second season May 21 on the road against the Gateway Grizzlies. Their home opener is slated for Saturday, May 24.

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