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Originally published Sunday, September 14, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Larry Stone

Ex-ball girl from Bellevue had big plans

The young woman from Bellevue, working for the Israeli baseball league, was killed in a traffic accident in Jordan recently.

Seattle Times baseball reporter

Around the Mariners offices, they still can't quite believe the jolt they received last week.

Never mind the awful record and shattered season. This was the real world.

Tragic word came that Rosie Santizo, one of their most popular and visible employees in the 1990s, had died at age 29.

Santizo, who was from Bellevue, had been working for the Israeli baseball league as part of her goal of becoming a major-league general manager. She was killed in a traffic accident in Jordan.

"For everyone who knew her, it was a palpable feeling that weekend after we heard," said Tony Pereira, the Mariners director of ballpark operations. "It is just such a sad, sad thing. Of all the people that have come and gone in our organization over 31 years, she was definitely one of the people that hit you extra hard. She was such a nice and happy young woman."

Not to mention incredibly accomplished, having graduated from the University of Washington with a double major in international business and Islamic studies.

Santizo was a talented artist, whose drawings of ballplayers were licensed by the MLB Players Association when she was 19 and displayed in baseball venues.

Many Mariners fans remember her for her beyond-the-call-of-duty work as a ball girl down the left-field line at the Kingdome. Santizo gained national attention during one 1998 game against Toronto when she came off her stool and dived after a ball hit into the corner by the Blue Jays' Craig Grebeck.

The only problem was, it was fair. Luckily, Santizo's sprawling attempt to flag down the ball barely missed. The umpire awarded Grebeck a ground-rule double. The Kingdome crowd went crazy in saluting Santizo. Her efforts were shown on highlights shows coast to coast. And Santizo, just 19 at the time, reacted with the charm and humor that were her hallmark.

"In midair, I was so fired," she told a reporter.

But no one could get mad at Santizo, who had joined the organization at age 16 as a "domer," which entailed such mundane tasks as passing out trinkets on giveaway days. But she made her mark when hired as a ball girl — the first (and last) anyone remembers wearing wrist bands and baseball cleats.

That was Santizo, always wanting to excel at whatever she did. Over the years, I had a chance to chat with her several times, and always came away floored by her poise, personality, and potential.

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"We've had dozens and dozens of ball girls, but Rosie always stood out for her enthusiasm, and of course her diving," said Pereira, who initially hired her as an intern. "She was head and shoulders above most of the girls that have done that position."

After leaving the Mariners, Santizo began to make her mark in another area — helping Latin players. Of Guatemalan descent and fluent in Spanish, she worked for the Red Sox teaching English in their Dominican Republic baseball academy, and also developed a career-development education program that is still used by the Red Sox's international players.

She was particularly proud of Hanley Ramirez, a former Red Sox farmhand who blossomed into stardom with Florida. But she was equally attentive to all her pupils, star or scrub.

Santizo had a stint with the Orioles as international liaison and instructor of English and cultural literacy. And while finishing up at UW, Santizo returned to the Mariners to work with some of their major-league Latin players, including Yuniesky Betancourt.

Her blog entry on Sept. 2, 2005, proudly describes her work with Betancourt:

"Yuniesky continues to excel in the class. His progress and confidence is beginning to grow, and it is showing in his enthusiasm to put what he learns to use. On one occasion after just learning advanced greetings, Rick Rizzs ran into him and asked, 'How you doin', Yuniesky?' Where he used to respond 'fine' or 'good,' Yuniesky started to responded by saying 'Good — ' then stopped himself, and answered with, 'Very well, thank you ... and you?'

"Rick was clearly impressed and responded with "Very well! And my, that's great English!' Yuniesky was all smiles."

The opportunity to work in Israel came about through her association with Dan Duquette, the former Boston general manager who is director of operations for the fledgling Israel Baseball League.

Details of the fatal accident are sketchy, but what remains vivid are the memories she left behind.

"She always had a smile in her voice when you talked to her on the phone," Pereira said. "She wanted so badly to get any type of job with the team. I remember her tenacity. She would not be dissuaded, which is good."

Her ultimate goal of becoming a general manager, sadly, won't be realized. But Santizo, for whom the Mariners held a moment of silence before last Sunday's game at Safeco Field, will always be remembered with a smile.

For a poignant look at Santizo's life and her artwork, go to her Web site at bigleaguer.blogspot.com.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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About Larry Stone
Larry Stone gives an inside look at the national baseball scene every Sunday. Look for his weekly power rankings during the season.
lstone@seattletimes.com

UPDATE - 10:00 PM
Larry Stone: Young pitcher Michael Pineda offers glimpse of exciting future for Mariners

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