© 2007 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.

06/15/07 10:00 AM ET

Santana a family man before Twins ace

To be just like his dad, southpaw pretended to be a right-hander

Johan Santana, recipient of many of baseball's most prestigious awards, including two American League Cy Young Awards, said that the "most wonderful feeling in life" has nothing to do with baseball.

It has everything to do with going to Chuck E. Cheese's and watching cartoons -- two of the lefty's favorite activities with his daughters. Johan, along with his wife, Yasmile, have their hands full at home with 4-year-old Jasmily and 2-year-old Jasmine.

"You know, every time I go home and I open the door and I see those little ones coming at me to give me a hug, it's always a great feeling," Santana said. "Honestly, every time I see them, I just want to stay there. I want to spend as much time as possible with them at all times."

The Twins ace does his best to leave his work out on the mound and just play the role of dad when he's at home.

"It's great. I totally forget about everything when I go back home, because that's time to be with my family," Santana said. "I don't mix my job and my family. I try to be a father. I try to be a husband. I try to be a friend."

It is Santana's own father, Jesus, who has inspired the Twins left-hander to balance his professional and family life so well.

Growing up in Venezuela, Jesus supported his wife and five children as an electrician. While he never played professional baseball, Johan remembers watching his father play in local games.

"He was a shortstop at the time, and I didn't know what that position was, but I knew I wanted to be like him," Johan said. "So that's how I started to play baseball. I was using his glove that at the time was so big for me, and his bats, and it was great."

Johan emulated his dad so accurately that the 28-year-old, who is now one of the most dominant left-handed pitchers in baseball, began his career as an 11-year-old right-handed shortstop in Little League.

"The first time they asked me what position I played, I pointed to where my dad always played, at shortstop," Johan said. "I started playing baseball as a right-hander because of my dad. Later, we found out I was a lefty, and everything was much easier for me in the game."

Johan sees his father, who still lives in Venezuela, when he comes to the United States once a year for a few months to visit family and watch his son play baseball. It is during that time that Johan sees how much he still emulates his father.

"When I'm with my daughters, I think I know exactly what my dad had to go through," Johan said. "You always look for the best for your family -- I do for my daughters -- and my dad was exactly the same way. ''

With a career filled with so much travel time, Johan realizes that he is bound to miss some things in his daughters' lives, but it is their happiness that he is most concerned about.

"You have to do a lot of sacrificing to please your little ones and to make them happy," Johan said. "That's all that matters. I feel so much love for my family. As a father, it's always a great feeling to see that your kids are happy. It's the most wonderful feeling in life."

Leslie Parker is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.