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Giants' Benito Santiago Basking In A Post-Season Glow

By Gabrielle Paese

October 11, 2002
Copyright © 2002 PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

"It just isn't a World Series if the Yankees aren't in it," someone said to me this week after the Anaheim Angels sent the Bronx Bombers home to clean out their clubhouse lockers early.

The New York Yankees may be the team.

Puerto Rico loves to root for, but this week there will be plenty of Puerto Ricans cheering for the San Francisco Giants and their 37-year-old catcher, Benito Santiago.

Santiago is living a glorious post-season moment. He was already instrumental in helping the Giants win Game 1 of the NLCS versus the St. Louis Cardinals with his two-run home run to left center in the sixth inning. In a sport that had ruled him out as too old and unproductive, Santiago put together a stellar comeback season this year, and it's all coming together for him this week against St. Louis.

"That bit about being too old is a myth," Santiago said once again in response to comments about him being over the hill. "I'm like a lion, strong, and ready to win this series. I know St. Louis isn't an easy team to beat but we're going to win, I'm confident of it."

Santiago debuted in the big leagues in 1986 and played the first of his 16 seasons with the San Diego Padres. The four-time All-Star clawed his way back to the major leagues in 2000 as a non-roster invitee for the Giants, then stole the starting catcher position from Doug Mirabelli and Bobby Estalella during 2001 spring training, even without a signed contract.

Santiago won Gold Gloves for his defensive work from 1988-1990 and was NL Rookie of the Year in 1987 for the Padres. Throughout his career he has played for Florida, Cincinnati, Philadelphia, Toronto and the Chicago Cubs.

"I have to thank God for blessing me. We Puerto Ricans have to give 200 percent to achieve and earn respect in the major leagues," said Santiago. "I hope that I can serve as an inspiration to the young people in Puerto Rico."

Vazquez back in the ring

It can't be considered a comeback because he never really retired. But at age 42 and now nicknamed "abuelo," or "grandfather," three-time former world boxing champion Wilfredo Vazquez is out to go where no Puerto Rican has gone before. Vazquez wants to become the first Puerto Rican over 40 to win a world title.

With that goal in mind, he's taking a second go-round this weekend in Bayamon against Nicaraguan Eddie Saenz, whom he defeated on June 28 of this year in Miami.

Vazquez, who is 55-9 with 40 KO, has held titles in three weight classes over his 21-year career. He earned the WBA bantamweight crown by knocking out Chan Yung Park in Korea on Oct. 3, 1987 in the 10th round. He won his second title at super bantamweight in 1992 when he knocked out Raul "El Jibaro" Perez in the third round.

Vazquez made 12 successful defenses of that title before he surrendered it in 1995 to Antonio Cermeno, losing a close 12-round decision. But he won the WBA featherweight title that same year with a knockout over Jose Velazquez in the third round.

Vazquez defended the belt four times before losing by knockout to Naseem Hamed in 1998 and taking a year-and-a-half hiatus from the sport.

Retirement, however, is not in his vocabulary.

"I'm coming back to try to get a shot at a title," said Vazquez. "I have the experience, the power and I'm in shape. I never lost that."

Saenz, 17-2-2 with 9 KO, isn't taking the old man lightly.

"I'm going to take advantage of any opening to look for a knockout, but I'm prepared to go all 10 rounds," said Saenz. "I have to beat Vazquez to make my dream of getting a world title bout come true."

San Juan to open sports high school

City of San Juan Mayor Jorge Santini and the city's director of Sports and Recreation Mari Batista unveiled plans earlier this week to open a sports-specific school in San Juan to refine elite talent in eight sports.

The school, which would offer academics as well as sports programming, would be open to San Juan residents only and completely free of charge.

Batista said the first class will enter in August of 2003 with a total of 100 students in seventh and 10th grades. Each successive year a new class will enter in those two grades to fill out a junior and high school.

The school will offer specific training in the sports of track and field, gymnastics, boxing, weightlifting, judo, wrestling, taekwondo and table tennis.

Two other sports-specific schools are currently in operation in Puerto Rico. The first is a Department of Education-backed Monday through Friday boarding school at the Olympic Training Center in Salinas. It offers a full academic slate for both middle and high school with an emphasis on sports training and is public. The second school offers sports programming only on an after-school basis and is run by the city of Carolina.

Gabrielle Paese is the Assistant Sports Editor at the San Juan Star. She is the 2000 recipient of the Overseas Press Club's Rafael Pont Flores Award for excellence in sports reporting. Comments or suggestions? Contact Gabrielle at

Her Column, Puerto Rico Sports Beat, appears weekly in the Puerto Rico Herald.

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