Keystone senior second baseman Esteban Meletiche talks to his mother on the phone every day. There isn’t a day that goes by that Mable Santiago doesn’t tell her son how proud she is of him. Sometimes, she even gets choked up thinking about it. 

Santiago has every right to be proud of her son, who is giving her the perfect Mother’s Day gift this year.  Meletiche will graduate from Keystone with a bachelor’s degree on May 19 as well as compete in the NCAA Division III Baseball cahmpionship for the fourth consecutive year. He recently garnered his third consecutive Colonial States Athletic Conference Player of the Year award after leading the Giants with a .381 batting average, 44 RBI, 44 runs scored and 16 doubles. 

Last week, Meletiche was voted Most Valuable Player of the CSAC Tournament after sparking the Giants to their fourth consecutive league title.  The win gives third-ranked Keystone (35-6) the program’s fifth consecutive NCAA Tournament berth since transitioning from a two-year junior college to a four-year school, and becoming eligible to compete in Division III in 2008.

While she is happy about the baseball accolades, Santiago is bursting with pride about her son’s graduation -- a feat which Meletiche himself never thought he would achieve.

“I wasn’t really a school person, but I loved baseball, and in order for me to play I had to have good grades,” Meletiche said.  “I had to work hard.  I would always hear how hard college is and that scared me when I was in high school.”

“He wasn’t very interested in school, so seeing him finish college – it’s a huge accomplishment in his life,” Santiago said.  “When he was in high school I would always tell him he needed to go to college for his future.  He always said he didn’t like school and his thing was baseball.  So, I’m so glad that because of baseball he went to college … it was a blessing.”

He wasn’t very interested in school, so seeing him finish college – it’s a huge accomplishment in his life.
-- Mable Santiago

Baseball also kept Meletiche off the streets of Philadelphia and out of trouble, while his close-knit family and extended family of aunts and cousins kept him grounded.

“[Being close with his family] kept him away from all the negative things because we do not live a very good neighborhood,” Santiago said.  “There is a lot of violence here.  Thankfully, I never had a problem with him in school or in the neighborhood.”

As a senior at Frankford High School in Philadelphia, options for college were limited for Meletiche until his summer league baseball coach Pete Torres recommended Keystone, located among the Endless Mountains of Northeastern Pennsylvania.  Meletiche had never heard of the school, but Torres was a former player of Keystone head coach Jamie Shevchik, so he looked into it.

On his visit, Meletiche was impressed with the small campus of 1,730 students in La Plume, Pa., as well as the baseball program and decided to become a Giant.  With no scholarships in Division III it was not easy financially as he is one of four children, but Santiago and her husband figured out a way.

“I know his parents went to the limit to give him the opportunity because they don’t come from great means,” Shevchik said.  “I give them a lot of credit for trusting me, and I’m sure sacrificing a whole lot for Esteban to go to college.”

“School costs a lot of money, but they’ll give us everything and have nothing,” Meletiche said.  “They sacrifice everything for our futures – I am really thankful for that.”

Meletiche made an immediate impact for the baseball program, becoming an everyday starter as a freshman.  He was named the CSAC’s Rookie of the Year in 2009, and added to his list of accomplishments with every season. 

“He has a quiet confidence about him,” Shevchik said.  “He plays 100 percent all the time.  I’ve seen him hit a 500-foot foul ball just missing a home run, and then drop down and bunt on the next pitch.  He plays the game the right way.”

Despite his initial tentativeness about the academic side of college, Meletiche has held his own in that realm, too, never missing a class and keeping his grades up.

“My mom is so happy,” Meletiche said.  “She calls me every day and every time she talks to me she is always proud and happy.  Sometimes, she even cries because she knew the person I was – and I wasn’t that good in school.  For me to go to college, and graduate this year, makes her really proud.”

While he has prepared himself educationally for his future, Meletiche is hopeful his will get a chance to play professional baseball. 

“I hope I get a chance to prove I belong at the next level,” Meletiche said.

Keystone has had six players taken in the Major League Baseball Draft in the last two years, and Shevchik says Meletiche is most complete player he’s ever had in his program.
“Numbers aside, the kid is your ideal kid,” Schvchik said.  “He is the perfect player, the perfect student … he’d be the ideal son.  He doesn’t do anything wrong.  He’s soft-spoken.  Off-the-field he’s a saint, in the class he always does what he needs to do.  I’ll probably never have a complete player like again … it’s a rarity.”

The NCAA Division III Baseball Championship regional pairings will be released on May 14.