"I stop everywhere. I don't mind it at all," the left-hander said during a visit Wednesday to the MLB Fan Cave. "I ask them what they want me to write, if they want me to write 'to, somebody,' or just sign it. [At] our [team] hotel, guys are always stopped in the front, and I know a lot of guys just zoom by. [Paul] Konerko, I know he's been getting hawked for like 15 years now, so he's kind of over it, and he probably feels the same people are trying to get him. I don't mind that at all. I try to go out on days I'm not starting down the third-base line and sign.
"I've been yelled at a couple of times. My last start at home, I stopped on the way up the [dugout] steps and said, 'I've still got a few more minutes,' and I signed a few. One of our guys said, 'Hey, you're pitching today.' I said, 'It's all right, it's not a big deal. It's only an autograph.'
"Of course, once you sign one, 20 come. You don't want to be that bad guy. It's impossible to sign all the autographs. But I try. This series at Yankee Stadium, I came out at six o'clock, and my uncle was there. And from 6:00 to 6:54, I signed autographs. Some of the [fans] were still mad at me. 'I was 54 minutes here!' I said back. I would take one guy's pen because I don't want to keep changing them. I like doing it."
To understand Santiago's insatiable hunger to sign autographs as well as asking baseball legends to sign for him, go back to his roots in nearby Newark, N.J., where he grew up loving the Mets and Yankees and was a 30th-round Draft pick of the White Sox in 2006. He embraces the chance to show inner-city kids what can happen if you focus on school and go after your dream with hard work and a coachable attitude.
Now he is in the process of building his own man cave, complete with a wall that will house at least 16 signed jerseys that he is having framed by a guy he talked down from $495 to $200 a pop. They aren't just any jerseys. Perhaps his pride and joy is an Orioles jersey he had signed last month by Cal Ripken Jr. The "Iron Man" added a special touch as he signed inside the number 8.
"Cal Ripken is a great baseball player and great person," Santiago said. "He signed it: 'To Hector, I love the way you compete.' Seeing something like that from a player like that, a guy who did amazing things in his career, that's awesome. I look at that all the time. When I saw him actually write that, I was like: 'Did he see me play?'
"That means the world. Something motivational, it shows that it doesn't matter who it is, there is always someone watching, whether it's Cal Ripken or a little kid from Newark, showing that you're out there competing and grinding through stuff. It can help anybody and everybody."
Santiago's next chance to compete has been pushed back to Saturday in Baltimore, as the White Sox juggled their rotation a bit on this trip. He was chased after 3 2/3 innings in his latest outing on Friday at Boston, but he has been solid in this second half, having started 20 games this year.
"Going seven days, it's just going out on the mound as much as you can," Santiago said. "I threw a bullpen two days ago, now I'm going to throw today, and then I'll have another soft one [Thursday], nice and easy, the first day in Baltimore. You just try to get on the mound as much as you can. You don't want to be too strong, so you try to get your arm to where it is when you're coming off four days' rest and start on day five."
Santiago (4-8, 3.43 ERA) began the year in the bullpen, got on a hot scoreless streak and was used in long relief when Gavin Floyd went down. Then he became a full-time starter, requiring an adjustment. He said "Wild Thing" is his entrance music because pitching coach Don Cooper always talks to him about his wildness on the mound, so the song seemed apropos.
"Being able to go out there every fifth day, being healthy, not having to miss any starts, that's my goal," Santiago said. "My last start, I tried and gave everything I had. I only went 3 2/3, but it was 101 pitches, and I threw 101 pitches with everything I had. It wasn't like I was just giving in. I didn't give in to anybody. I had a 3-1 walk, I wasn't trying to throw it down the middle and let them run into something. I walked him, and I was just like, 'All right, I got into a jam, but I'm not gonna give in.' I know walks are pretty much like giving in, but I'm battling through it. It was just one of those games where I was battling.
"For the most part, I've had success and given my team a chance to win a game."
And he has signed countless autographs along the way, while looking for seemingly as many himself. This year, he figures he has gotten about 200 autographs. He got Hank Aaron's at the Civil Rights Game, and per his request, Mariano Rivera signed one with the inscription, "Last to wear 42." He said he will be posting many of them on his @hecsantiago53 Instagram account. What's next?
"I'm trying to get a Willie Mays now," Santiago said. "That one's tough."