#TinoTough: Community rallies around young baseball player diagnosed with cancer

By Natalie Szrajer
Posted 9/22/23

A Lexington first grader is facing challenges unlike most kids his age, but he’s got help.

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#TinoTough: Community rallies around young baseball player diagnosed with cancer


A Lexington first grader is facing challenges unlike most kids his age, but he’s got help.

Santino Rodriguez was diagnosed with B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia Aug. 3 and has a support network rallying behind him as he perseveres through medical adversity. 

Kathryn and Cody Smith knew Rodriguez when he was picked for the Gilbert Dixie Youth Baseball Rookie All Star team, which Cody coached, last July. The boy played first base for the team, they were devastated when the boy received his leukemia diagnosis. The husband and wife organized an online fundraiser via GoFundMe, which surpassed its initial goal of $25,000 and had surpassed $28,000 as of Sept. 22, now pushing for $30,000. The funds will help the family with medical expenses.

“His mom took a leave of absence from the school she works for. Her job isn’t [considered] safe,” Kathryn said, explaining her job position would be listed as open. “They also have to write a check for health insurance.”

Rodriguez  has been receiving chemotherapy at Prisma Health Children’s Hospital in Columbia.

“[Sept. 8] is day 29 of chemo,” Kathryn reported, adding that he was doing OK. “He will have a second bone marrow biopsy and determine if chemo he has is still working.”

“He has the less aggressive form,” she added. “They’re hoping with eight months of intense chemo, he will be in remission.”

Butven after chemo ends, his life will be quite different for the immediate future, with no swimming, no public pools, no beach and no lake, Kathryn explained. He is hoping to return to baseball eventually. 

Kathryn said she and her husband suspected something was wrong when Rodriguez was in Tennessee for a World Series baseball game with his team.

 “When we were in Tennessee for the world series, we could tell he wasn’t feeling himself,” she said. “He’s hands down one of the best on the team and he was having lots of GI issues and his skin color was changing.”

Thankfully, one of the moms who had a son playing is a nurse practitioner and was able to help.

“At first he was diagnosed with strep. But his white blood cells were out of control,” Kathryn said.

In addition to the GoFundMe, there have been meal trains provided by the community along with bracelets and T-shirts displaying the hashtag and motto #TinoTough. Tino is Rodriguez’s nickname.

Kathryn said they would like to do a baseball tournament and home run derby this fall to raise additional funds. 

In addition to Lexington community support, Rodriguez also got support from Olly the Otter, Lexington Kids Day’s official mascot who supports kids in the state facing lifelong illnesses and medical adversities.


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