Vietnam War and baseball veteran visits his roots


Retired Sgt. 1st Class Juan Santiago worked on the crew of the Florida Marlins when they won the World Series in 1997. Photos by Darrell Woehler

Darrell Woehler

There were 4,065 fans in the stands for the spring training game between the Washington Nationals and the Miami Marlins on March 7, but chances are only one of them was wearing a Florida Marlins World Series ring, vintage 1997. His name is Juan Santiago. 

If you are a sports fan, you can concentrate on his talented baseball career. If you are a military buff, there are plenty of heroics and awards to honor, including five years of service in Vietnam, being shot down twice and wounded four times.

Oftentimes, heroes such as retired Sgt. 1st Class Juan Santiago are on the quiet side, but not this man. He goes about his life thanking others for the jobs they are doing. Within 10 minutes at the ballgame, he sincerely thanked two police officers and two paramedics for their service.

It seems appropriate that he lives at Indian River Colony Club in Viera, the place patriots call home. He is a recent recipient of the Jefferson Award, a prestigious civic award he received for a variety of volunteer work, including Army recruiting.

That’s right, the Florida Marlins, predecessors of the Miami Marlins, the team for which Space Coast Stadium was originally built in 1994, were here for spring training from 1994 to 2002, then the Montreal Expos until 2004 and now the Washington Nationals are in their final season before moving to West Palm Beach.  

Santiago was born in Santurce, Puerto Rico in 1939. When old enough, he started playing baseball with Carolina in the Puerto Rican League, along with the likes of Roberto Clemente.  

As for the World Series ring he proudly wears, Santiago worked several different jobs that season, including grounds crew, security and equipment manager. Shortly after that season, he became clubhouse manager for the Brevard County Manatees at Space Coast Stadium.

Santiago is a gentleman who has spent most of his life in a uniform, military and baseball, both of which he is extremely proud.

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