Derreck Santiago believes his program can carve out a niche in the baseball hotbed that is Central Florida.
WINTER GARDEN As the Foundation Academy varsity baseball team inches closer to its first games under new coach Derreck Santiago, the head of the program is feeling pretty upbeat about his new program.
“We’re going to be a team that is going to hit all cylinders,” Santiago said Feb. 9 as the Lions wrapped practice.
Santiago praised his team’s pitching (Foundation has six roster players that show promise on the mound) and its power ability at the plate. The potential to win some games with this year’s crop of players is one of the reasons he said he took the job last summer after coaching at Haines City.
But it wasn’t the most important.
“My first interest was the Christian background — I saw that they have the belief that every athlete is a disciple, and that interested me,” Santiago said. “(The school is in) a good location.”
“We’re going to surprise a lot of folk. We’re going to open up some minds in the community.”
— Derreck Santiago
Born in Puerto Rico but raised in Orlando, Santiago played varsity baseball at Oak Ridge High. After that, he spent two decades serving in the U.S. Army, before embarking on a career coaching baseball that has spanned more than 13 years. Santiago has coached high school in Florida and Philadelphia, and college and junior college in Kansas. He also served as a special assistant in the minor leagues for the Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds.
He also has brought along some assistants with some significant experience. Nestar Castro played professionally in Puerto Rico for many years and has been coaching in the Central Florida area for 10 years with the FTB travel organization. Alexander Melendez, who will focus on the Lions’ strength and conditioning, just completed a stretch of four years in the minor league system of the Houston Astros as an outfielder.
Santiago has a vision for his program on the school’s campus in south Winter Garden. This year is the first year the school has had a junior-varsity baseball team, and he hopes to field a middle-school team in the coming years. New dugouts also were built at the team’s facility.
In time, the new coach is optimistic his program will carve a niche in West Orange’s baseball stronghold.
“We’re going to surprise a lot of folks,” Santiago said. “We’re going to open up some minds in the community.”
Contact Steven Ryzewski at [email protected].