Carlos Santana knew it would be different. He knew coming to a new league, after eight years in the American League with Cleveland would take an adjustment.
Facing different pitchers… unfamiliar ballparks… new teammates… basically a completely different culture from the Indians, who’d been to the postseason the previous two seasons and came agonizingly close to winning the 2016 World Series, only to blow a 3-1 series lead to the Chicago Cubs.
Not only that, but friends were telling him he was making a mistake.
“People asked me ‘Why go there? It’s a bad team,’” recalled Santana, who’s quietly emerged as one of the mainstays on a Philadelphia Phillies team now challenging the surprising Atlanta Braves in the N.L. East.
“I don’t listen to something negative,” he said. “I decided to come. It was hard for me at first, but now I’m comfortable. My teammates are great. We’re playing well and my energy is different. I like it.”
However, not many Phillies fans were liking the 32-year old Santana, when he got off to a brutal start, hitting just .153 through the month of April.
While manager Gabe Kapler kept pointing out he was consistently making good contact, but just hitting the ball right at people, Santana knew better.
Simply because he’d been there before. “This is not the first time I’ve been in that situation,” said Santana, who proceeded to hit .281 with seven homers and 22 RBI in May and has continued to produce since.
“All of my career I’ve been much better the second half,” he said. “I don’t know why. Maybe the cold weather bothers me, but mentally I always finish strong. “
With 14 homers and 51 RBI through the first week of July, Santana is on pace to top his career-best 87 RBI in 2016, though likely not the 34 home runs he bashed that season.
Not quite as noticeable but invaluable is setting the table for others and driving up pitch counts. Santana is doing a great job of showing patience at the plate and could shatter his 2014 career-high 113 walks.
“This is my first year taking more than 50 walks in first half,” said Santana, who’s already drawn a team-high 68 free passes. “It’s the same strike zone (as the A.L.), but there are a lot of pitchers I don’t know. That’s why I’m taking so much.”
Outside of the walks, the first baseman is more convinced by the day he picked a good team coming here.
“We’re playing much better. We’re fighting for the division or the wild card,” said Santana, who originally signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers out of the Dominican Republic in 2004, before being dealt to Cleveland in 2008.
The 32-year-old also understands that the MLB regular season is a marathon and not a sprint, but is pleased with how things are progressing.
“It’s a long season, but I’m confident in my team,” he added.
The feeling is mutual towards the guy making the transition to a new league about as seamless as possible. And if there was ever a doubt the Phillies now know that having finally settled in here, Carlos Santana will continue to make his presence felt both on and off the field.