Frank De Los Santos: Overcoming Tragedy, Finding Baseball, Speeing Toward Tampa
- Name: Frank De Los Santos
- Age: 25
- Organization: Tampa Bay Rays
Author: Patrick Kinas, DNAOfSports.com creator.
For Tampa Bay Rays top left-handed prospect Frank De Los Santos, his life has always been centered around speed. However, it has only recently been the speed of his 96mph fastball that has baseball scouts clamoring over De Los Santos. The speed De Los Santos craved since he was a young boy growing up on the dirt roads of Los Corrales, Dominican Republic, was the speed of motorcycles.
The game of baseball, which behind soccer, is the second most popular sport for the youth of the Dominican, De Los Santos didn't even enjoy it. He was bored watching the game as a kid, and didn't have any real interest to play. So as a youngster, De Los Santos' true interest was in motorcycles. Building them, riding them, and racing them. And the stringy De Los Santos was good. The neighborhood's best.
Most days after school, De Los Santos could be found speeding around the Los Corrales neighborhood kicking up dirt with the wheels of his motorcycle like a six-hopper to shortstop would on a hot, smoky afternoon on the Dominican baseball fields. He would race his friends for show, for money and for pride. The pride in winning and profiting was enough to satisfy the young Dominican's friendly ego. As De Los Santos piled up the wins, his boyhood friends would try to improve their bikes, wanting to defeat the Usain Bolt of Los Corrales racing. They'd soup up their bikes only to have Frankie retool his and still leave them in his dust. His passion for racing and winning was unquenchable.
Until one fateful day changed it all.
Frankie's father, Francisco De Los Santos, was a trucker over the dry roads of the Dominican. For years, he would haul agriculture for hours a day, delivering them to the local markets day after day to provide for his family of five. Frankie's love of motorcycles stemmed from his dad, who would often times take Frankie out for a ride throughout the countryside. As Frankie became older, the two would ride side by side nights on end. Motorcycling was their bond.
Late one summer night when Frankie was 16, Francisco was hauling his final load of the day. He heard an unfamiliar noise from the engine of his truck. Pulling over to the side of the road, the elder De Los Santos knew it was beyond his rudimentary ability to fix. Francisco called a friend to come to the outskirts of town to give him a lift back to the city to find a mechanic.
As the sun went down for the night, Francisco's friend appeared on his motorcycle, Francisco hopped on behind his friend, and they were off making the nine-mile trip back into town. As they approached an intersection, speeding, wavering headlights were fast approaching from the opposite direction. Too fast.
The collision was fierce and the De Los Santos family would never be complete again. The ambulance arrived within minutes. The motorcycle was a heap of unusable metal. Francisco's friend had survived, but was struggling for his life. However, there was nothing they could do for Frankie's dad. Thrown from the back of the motorcycle over a hundred feet, Francisco was killed on impact. The impaling truck had major front-end damage, and was sitting in the middle of the road. The driver's side door was open, but the driver was nowhere to be found.
As the ambulance sped away with Francisco's friend to a hospital, with Francisco lying dead from the accident, a search began to find the hit-and-run driver. The driver had apparently fled into the adjacent field and remained at-large until the next morning, when he was apprehended and taken into custody.
The police determined the driver was drunk at the time of the accident, with the empty bottles in the truck a clear indicator. With the De Los Santos family already grieving their sudden loss, the family was dealt an even stronger blow when news arrived that the drunk driver of the truck was Francisco's very own cousin, who not only killed Francisco, but then ran when he saw who was laying, dying on the ground.
Following the funeral, Francisco's wife - Frankie's mother - Esmerelda, pulled Frankie aside. She pleaded with him not to ride motorcycles anymore. They're too fast. They're too dangerous. She couldn't bear to see Frankie meet the same fate her husband just suffered. Take up a new hobby. Go play baseball.
The next day, instead of racing down the streets of Los Corrales, Frankie walked to the baseball field to try the sport that he was bored to play years before.
Learning to play and learning to pitch at the age of 16 in the Dominican would typically lead to a common life of family and farming - not to a life of major league baseball. However, as players, coaches and scouts would soon see, Frankie's left arm was special.
Just two years later, never having ridden his motorcycle since his father's death, the slender, long-armed lefty was throwing fastballs in the upper 80s. With major league baseball scouts scouring the international scene, when word spread of this raw baseball newbie's innate ability, scouts streamed in to watch him play. De Los Santos had signed with the Tampa Bay Rays, and left his motorcycle behind.
De Los Santos made his debut in the United States in 2007, and began getting professional instruction for the first time in his life. The transition was difficult. Being away from home was hard. But De Los Santos was carrying the torch for his entire family, and endured the bus rides and cramped apartments in West Virginia, New York and Florida as he honed his craft.
Converted to the bullpen in 2011, De Los Santos soared. Reaching Double-A for the first time, suddenly he was on the radar with movement toward the major leagues.
In 2012, De Los Santos, still lean, but stronger and more mature, had added velocity to an already good fastball, and promoted to the Triple-A Durham Bulls in June, De Los Santos was throwing harder than he ever had in his life, and has become one of the top lefty relievers in the Tampa Bay Rays system, with an ERA of just over 2.00 in 49 appearances. Now the speed De Los Santos cherishes is that of his low-to-mid 90s fastball and the speed of his rise through the minor leagues.
Added to the Rays' 40-man roster in the off-season, De Los Santos no longer yearns to ride his motorcycle. The yellow one he rode as a teen still sits at his modest home, watched over by his mother. Frankie has turned the cycling page, with his future now resting on the speed his left arm delivers.
(Photo courtesy: Facebook.)Tweet