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Starlin Castro stays humble: “Nobody’s better than baseball”

Jul 14, 2014, 4:16 PM EDT

Starlin Castro stands at his locker and takes the heat when things go wrong. He never asks for days off. He won’t let the money or the trade rumors change him.

Castro speaks better English than he did as a rookie, and a $60 million contract has given his family generational wealth. But after all the ups and downs, he still resembles the kid who showed up in the visiting clubhouse at Great American Ball Park on May 7, 2010, and faced the great expectations.

Castro hit a three-run bomb in his first big-league at-bat and put up six RBIs that night in Cincinnati. Three nights later, the young shortstop made three errors and got booed during his Wrigley Field debut.

There have been extremes, getting on the cover of Sports Illustrated, getting ripped by Bobby Valentine on national television and now getting back to the All-Star Game for a third time at age 24.

Castro will sometimes slam his helmet to the ground in frustration or let his mind drift for a moment while playing defense. But he’s remarkably composed for someone who plays a glamour position for an iconic franchise in an overheated media market.

It’s just that Castro’s now a more complete player, already putting up 11 homers and 52 RBIs this season, better numbers than he had all last year.

[MORE CUBS: After Cubs/A’s deal, Samardzija will be in All-Star limbo]

Alfonso Soriano — the $136 million man who became the godfather to Castro’s son, Starlin Jr. — showed how to keep a cool head and bring the right amount of swagger to the ballpark.

“You know who I learned a lot from — Sori,” Castro said. “Sori’s the same guy. Always. I always hung out with him. And that’s the kind of thing that he told me: Nobody’s better than baseball. When you’re gone, baseball stays. If you’re a star, if you’re a great player, keep the same (attitude). Stay humble.”

Castro spoke with Soriano after the New York Yankees designated him for assignment last week, and it’s unclear if he’ll simply stay home with his family in Tampa, Fla., and retire after a borderline Hall of Fame career.

“Maybe,” Castro said. “I don’t know. Let’s see. I don’t talk to him about that. But he’s good.”

Like Soriano, Castro always wants to see his name in the lineup, and that gets overlooked when he’s broken down on Twitter and talk radio.

Castro has started all 94 games at shortstop this season. He played 161 last season, even as he struggled to process the organization’s mixed messages, looking lost at the plate (.245 average). He played all 162 in 2012, part of a consecutive-games streak that reached 269. That says more than the coded language used by some scouts and media personalities.

[MORE CUBS: Kris Bryant gets national spotlight in Futures Game]

Castro credited Tim Buss, the team’s strength and conditioning coordinator, for traveling to the Dominican Republic during the offseason and designing a program that reshaped his body and his mentality. Castro then worked out at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., before reporting to spring training.

Castro had something to prove after the Cubs fired manager Dale Sveum, citing the stalled development by young core players like their franchise shortstop and first baseman Anthony Rizzo.

Whatever the perceptions, new manager Rick Renteria put it this way: “I just know from the very first phone call we shared over the winter, (Castro) said he was willing to do whatever it took to get back on track. And he’s done it.”

Castro has survived the regime changes, playing for Lou Piniella and Mike Quade and working with a diverse group of hitting coaches and infield instructors, as well as Theo Epstein’s front office. The consensus: Castro is coachable, eager to please, someone who cares about his craft.

“I don’t know what the media have said about him,” Cubs hitting coach Bill Mueller said. “I came in clean with Rizz and Casty. But from Day 1, both those guys have been hard workers, and they take it very seriously. And that’s all you can ask. They’ve been listening. They apply what you’re saying, and they’ve been going out and doing (it).”

Castro appreciates it more this time. He chartered a plane to fly his family and Rizzo to Minnesota. He will be back where he belongs on Tuesday night at Target Field.

“After that bad year last year, that’s what we’re looking for,” Castro said. “Make the All-Star Game and come back at that level.”

  1. moogro - Jul 14, 2014 at 4:45 PM

    This article’s advocacy and subject rehabilitation is strange.

    • chiadam - Jul 14, 2014 at 10:11 PM

      advocacy and subject rehabilitation ARE strange, professor English.

    • bolweevils2 - Jul 15, 2014 at 9:41 AM

      I don’t think it’s unusual. You see articles like this about players all the time. What’s strange is this article doesn’t fit in with what we normally see on HBT.

  2. stlouis1baseball - Jul 14, 2014 at 5:03 PM

    Someone (anyone)….
    Please translate Moogro’s post for me.
    Unfortunately, Monday’s are hard. As a result, my “understanding multi-syllable words when they are not needed dictionary” rarely works on Monday’s. I should be good the rest of the week however.

    • El Bravo - Jul 14, 2014 at 5:35 PM

      sorry, can’t help you on that one.

    • mikhelb - Jul 15, 2014 at 4:48 AM

      He basically means that the article seems to be done to reivindicate Castro in the eyes of the Cubs fans who last year criticized him a lot for all of his struggles and do not know what he has done, what he has gone through and how he has taken those criticisms. At the same time it seems to advocate for a sense of calm if Starlin struggles again because he is doing all he can to be productive.

      What I think gets overlooked is how the Cubs front office decided to hire a hispanoamerican manager in Rich Rentería to talk with the young hispanic talent the Cubs have and need somebody to talk to. Rentería has been regarded as a father figure as a manager because of the way he approaches players who are not far appart from his own age; for example there was a picture of Rentería hugging Karim García who was crying after they were on the brink of being eliminated in the WBC… Rentería might not be the manager that makes the Cubs a winning team again, but he surely will consolidate the young core of hispanoamerican players the Cubbies have in their farm and are about to be promoted to the Big Show.

  3. El Bravo - Jul 14, 2014 at 5:34 PM

    “Castro spoke with Soriano after the New York Yankees designated him for assignment last week, and it’s unclear if he’ll simply stay home with his family in Tampa, Fla., and retire after a borderline Hall of Fame career.”

    That’s a thick ass border brah.

    • stlouis1baseball - Jul 14, 2014 at 5:47 PM

      Oh yeah. Multiple coats of paint type thickness. I mean…t.h.i.c.k.

  4. mgv38 - Jul 14, 2014 at 6:14 PM

    Rizzy and Casty? Imaginative.

  5. RonKarate - Jul 14, 2014 at 6:30 PM

    It was written by an Irish guy from Chicago. He was most likely three sheets when he wrote this. I bet it’s mostly made up to meet a deadline.

  6. dstark9 - Jul 14, 2014 at 7:13 PM

    I don’t know if I would call the year Castro is having a bounce back year so much. I wouldn’t even call it a all-star type year. Castro is on pace to strike out 120 times, he doesn’t steal bases, his defense is still below average, he doesn’t draw walks and has a low OBP% of .323. I guess he is on pace to hit about 20 home runs and drive in 90 runs? Castro has been batting in the middle of the order for a good part of the season. Not really sure if Castro is the answer for the Cubs to be a solid run producer. I am pretty sure Castro should not be on the all-star team. If I were the Cubs, I would use this to my advantage and trade him as fast as possible while stock is still high.

    • Wesley Clark - Jul 14, 2014 at 7:35 PM

      He is only 24 with a long term, team friendly, contract. Not sure why you would want to move a piece like that. He has improved this year after the disaster that was last year. He is an above average offensive shortstop. Those don’t just magically appear. His defense is improving, though it is still a work in progress. My guess is that he eventually ends up at 2nd base, but the Cubs would be foolish to trade him now.

    • chiadam - Jul 14, 2014 at 10:15 PM

      He has 800 hits at 24 years old.

    • bolweevils2 - Jul 15, 2014 at 9:50 AM

      I was going to say he has a .766 OPS, and that’s pretty good for a shortstop in the post-steroid era. But when I looked into it, he has a WAR of 1.3 so far this year, which sounds respectable but in reality is only the 11th best WAR among NL shortstops, behind even Jordy Mercer.

      But the Cubs needed to have one representative. You could make a case for Rizzo instead of Castro I guess, but the one guy that sticks out is Jake Arrieta. I’s say he’s easily having the best year out of Cub players.

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