Ryan Santino

Ryan Santino, 14, who plans to play sports at Desert Vista High, and his father, Todd, a former star athlete and now a front-office employee with the Arizona Cardinals, say they benefited from having fathers who did not push them to follow them into sports – yet they both did, on their own.

The links that sports create between fathers and sons can enrich a relationship or turn it toxic, especially when dad was a star athlete.

Todd Santino knows. His dad, Tony, was an All-American baseball player at the University of Southern California. Todd liked sports, too, but he is grateful that Tony never pushed him to follow in his footsteps.

Yet Todd, now a business-development manager with the Arizona Cardinals, did find his own way and followed his dad to USC as a baseball player.

Now Todd is passing along what he learned from his dad to his son, Ryan, a budding athlete headed to Desert Vista High in August after an impressive multi-sport career with the Altadena Middle School Panthers.

Todd’s Father’s Day message to dads and sons connected by sports is simple: Just let it happen. No pressure.

The Santino family has a history of athletic success on both sides, but Todd and wife, Keely, didn’t want to push their son into competition.

“When we moved here nine years ago, I coached a little bit. But I kind of got out of that right away,” Todd said. “I wanted to support the kids when they were younger, then I wanted them to do their own thing and just support them in the background.”

As Ryan gets ready to focus on basketball and baseball at Desert Vista, his parents understand there is far more to life than sports. The family has stressed the importance of schoolwork to go along with athletic achievements.

That approach has paid off, as Ryan graduated from Altadena last month an honor-roll student.

“We’ve really raised Ryan to be respectful. We try to make sure he doesn’t grow up arrogant,” Todd said. “We’re school-first. That’s most important.”

Inside the Santinos’ Phoenix home is a room dedicated to the family’s rich history of athletic triumphs. Game-worn jerseys, signed equipment and trophies scattered on the walls are enough to breed success on the court and diamond.

The plethora of USC Trojans memorabilia is hard to ignore. And as Ryan gears up for his freshman year at Desert Vista, he can’t help pondering his collegiate future.

“I would love to go to USC. We go there all the time to see games,” Ryan said. “Arizona and ASU are great schools, too.”

Todd Santino has had a long career as a professional sports executive. He’s held positions with the Golden State Warriors and New Orleans Hornets of the NBA, but he’s found a permanent home in football with the Cardinals.

Ryan seems to have found a home on the baseball diamond. The 14-year-old was dominant for Altadena this past season, starring at shortstop during the team’s title run.

Prior to the spring, Ryan could be found leading his basketball team in scoring as a shooting guard. He helped Altadena win its first-ever championship.

And Ryan was a top runner on the cross country team.

It’s not out of the ordinary for the talented Santino family.

Todd was a pitcher at USC, his career cut short by an arm injury.

Todd and Ryan, however, claim they are not the superstars of the family. That honor belongs to Ryan’s grandfather, Todd’s father, Tony.

Tony Santino went on to play major league baseball for three years with the Milwaukee Braves.

“He was the best,” Todd said of his father, who resides in California. “I knew there was always an expectation when you grew up with a dad who was an All-American, but it was always unspoken. He didn’t put pressure on us.”

Todd and Keely’s choice to take a similar approach with Ryan has paid off.  Ryan found his own way.

Ryan’s record-setting performances include a 75-point day in a three-game basketball tournament in San Diego last summer.

“I like baseball and basketball equally,” Ryan said. “I pitched a lot in club and am waiting for high school to see how my arm develops.”

“I think playing multiple sports makes him a better athlete. He’s a much better shortstop because he plays basketball,” Todd added.

As he sat next to Ryan on the couch, Todd took the opportunity to compare his son to another star athlete: himself.

“I think he’s a better overall athlete in basketball than I was, but we were both known as shooters. I think he has picked that skill up. I was always a really good control pitcher. He has a very accurate arm from shortstop or on the mound,” he said.

Todd believes that his son has a ton of untapped potential.

“He’s not very mature physically yet. So, to still be able to dominate like he has is impressive,” Todd said. “I think he has the ability to explode as he goes through high school.”

Ryan isn’t the last in the Santino bloodline. His younger brother, 12-year-old A.J., is a cross country runner at Altadena and also plays basketball.  

-Contact Brian Benesch at 480-898-5630 or bbenesch@timespublications.com.

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