Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record
Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record
When Yonathan “Santoyo” Hernandez showed up for the local Pitch, Hit and Run competition at Lions Hondo baseball fields April 2, he was just there to participate and have a little fun.
“When we got there, we were a little confused about what was happening,” Yonathan said. “All the kids had their backpacks and gear, like they had been preparing.”
Little did he and his family know that an afternoon of basic baseball fundamentals would lead to a trip to the Midsummer Classic in Miami where Yonathan will try to toss, swing and sprint his way to the Major League Baseball Pitch, Hit and Run national title on July 10.
“We went out for fun. We didn’t know much about Pitch, Hit and Run,” said Yonathan’s mother, Anna Santoyo. “We got an invitation from our friends to go out and hit with the kids. We had no idea something like this would come out of it, but it’s very exciting.”
After winning the 11-12-year-old division in Roswell, Yonathan competed in a sectional competition in Albuquerque, where he belted all three of his hits out of the park. That, along with a strong performance on the mound and running the base paths, gave him a high enough score to earn one of three spots at the Arizona Diamondbacks team championship at Chase Field in Phoenix on June 11.
After winning in Phoenix, the family had to wait about two weeks to hear whether or not Yonathan made the cut for nationals.
“On the Friday before we found out, we got an email telling us to keep a look out for another email announcing the finalist,” Santoyo said. “At first, I got excited and thought he had made it, but we had to wait longer. When Monday arrived, we had kind of forgotten, but when we found out, it was a great feeling!”
Yonathan said his mother and at least one of his three older sisters were screaming throughout the house when the news arrived.
“It makes mom really proud,” Yonathan said. “I think she’s the most excited out of all of us, even me.”
For Santoyo, participating in baseball and other sports with her son has been a godsend. She coached her son his first year on the diamond a few years ago, and learned a lot about the game in a short period of time thanks to some good neighbors that worked with the kids and inexperienced coaches.
“I’ve been diagnosed with various health issues and I’ve had 43 surgeries, mostly in the last two years,” Santoyo said. “Going out there with the kids, helping or just watching, just brings awesome feelings. We’ve been blessed with great friends around us.”
While stepping back as coach, Santoyo has continued to play the role of “team mom,” keeping score and motivating her son’s team.
“I look at the kids and say, ‘You have God’s eyes to distinguish a ball from a strike, God has given you strong arms to hit home runs and quick feet to run faster than lightning, so go out there and do it. We believe in you.’ It’s awesome to watch these kids step up to the plate with great confidence. We never leave a game without praying and thanking God for every coach, player and person that participates.”
Santoyo said Yonathan’s father, Jose Angel Santoyo, is also at every practice and every game, despite working long days that usually start before 4 a.m.
“His dad takes a lot of pride in Yonathan out there,” she said. “He works long hours, but always shows up. He’s the dad that chases down foul balls and returns them to the field. We’re both very, very proud of our son.”
Mother and son will depart for Miami on Saturday, shortly after returning from Yonathan’s tournament in Alamogordo with his Lions Hondo All-Star team.
The 24 finalists across all four age groups for baseball and softball will attend various All-Star Weekend activities, including the MLB Fan Fest at the Miami Beach Convention Center, the All-Star Futures Game and All-Star Legends & Celebrity Softball Game. On July 10, the kids will compete inside Marlins Park prior to the Gatorade All-Star Workout Day.
At 6 p.m., the finalists will take to the Marlins’ outfield where they will shag fly balls for the Major Leaguers’ Home Run Derby, which airs on ESPN.
Yonathan will be the first competitor to represent New Mexico at the Pitch, Hit and Run finals. This season, he played for the Lions Hondo Reds and made the Lions Hondo All-Stars for the second year.
More than 625,000 young baseball and softball players took part in the Pitch, Hit and Run this year, in more than 4,500 competitions throughout the U.S. and Canada. Competitors get six pitches, scoring 75 points for hitting the strike zone; three swings, with the best swing (distance and accuracy) counting toward the score; and one 120-foot timed run between three bases.