Castro: 'I'm ready to play baseball'


Castro: 'I'm ready to play baseball'

MESA, Ariz. There was a row of six television cameras waiting when Starlin Castro emerged from the complex to meet the press.

Cubs officials have insisted that this wont be a distraction during spring training. Before the teams first full-squad workout on Friday, their 21-year-old All-Star shortstop addressed the sexual assault allegations that surfaced during the offseason.

Im ready to play baseball, Castro said in his first public comments since meeting with Chicago police last month. In the beginning, it was tough, but Ive taken this out of my mind in preparation to play.

The incident occurred late last September, right after the Cubs ended their season and just before Castro flew back home to the Dominican Republic for the winter. He has not been charged with a crime and his lawyers have vehemently denied the allegations.

I cooperated with the police, Castro said. I dont have (anything else) to say about that. Im grateful to play baseball.

Tom Ricketts declined to say whether the authorities have contacted the Cubs to say the matter is closed. The chairman said he doesnt know any specifics about the situation and directed everything toward Castros representatives.

Those are questions for Starlin and his people, Ricketts said. Im not going to talk about it.

Castro, who did not use an interpreter while speaking with the media, was asked what hes learned through this experience.

You got to be careful, he said, because there are a lot of bad people in the world.

This will become a talking point for the Cubs, who this spring plan to bring in experts from the Northeastern University Center for Sport in Society to educate their players on how to handle fame and the spotlight.

Theo Epstein arranged for similar seminars when he ran the Boston Red Sox. The new president of baseball operations has stressed accountability, both on and off the field, and this seems to be the first test.

Believe in your family, Alfonso Soriano said. Believe in a couple guys that youve known for a long time. But dont believe in those guys that you know for like one day or one night. You have to be careful, because you are a professional player now and everybody knows you and maybe somebody wants something from you.

Soriano who worked out extensively with Castro at the Cubs academy in the Dominican Republic this offseason has maintained that his friend is innocent. Privately, people close to Castro and around the team have essentially said the same thing.

He didnt make a mistake, Soriano said. He didnt do anything wrong. I believe in him.

Castro lived with Soriano as a rookie in 2010, and the two remain close. Soriano has tried to stress what he heard as a young player coming up with the New York Yankees.

I had a lot of people that told me, Hey, just be careful, youre in New York, a little thing here is big news, Soriano recalled. I tried to tell him before this happened that hes got to be careful because this is a big city and you play for the Cubs.

Now everybody knows you, so youre not the same guy you used to be a couple years ago. You got to be careful and stay focused and play baseball and everything will come into place.

The Cubs had built marketing campaigns around Castro and put his image up on billboards. He would not talk about the incident, and the entire media session lasted less than five minutes.

Castro met individually with Epstein, general manager Jed Hoyer and manager Dale Sveum, something the staff did with each player to go over expectations. Then he went out and took grounders and swung away in the cage underneath the Arizona sunshine.

Hes put that all behind him, Sveum said. Its just great to just have him in camp. He had a smile on his face all day.

Anthony Rizzo/Javier Baez antics show how this Cubs team doesn’t feel the same weight of history

Anthony Rizzo/Javier Baez antics show how this Cubs team doesn’t feel the same weight of history

LOS ANGELES – Within minutes of the last out on Thursday night at Dodger Stadium, ESPN’s @SportsCenter account sent out a photo of Moises Alou at the Wrigley Field wall to more than 30 million Twitter followers: “The last time the Cubs were up 3-2 in an NLCS was Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS vs. the Marlins. Most remember it as ‘the Bartman Game.’”

As Kerry Wood once said: “Irrelevant, dude.”
Look, the Cubs still need to find a way to beat either Clayton Kershaw or Rich Hill this weekend, with Kenley Jansen resting and waiting for the multiple-inning saves. The obligatory description for Kershaw is “the best pitcher on the planet.” Hill’s lefty curveball – and “the perceptual velocity” of his fastball – freezes hitters. Jansen has a mystical cutter reminiscent of the great Mariano Rivera. The top-heavy part of this Los Angeles playoff pitching staff has held the Cubs to zero runs in 16.1 innings.

But until proven otherwise, forget about this idea of a Cubs team weighed down by the history of a franchise that hasn’t played in the World Series since 1945.

Just look at Javier Baez getting in Anthony Rizzo’s airspace during Game 5, the human-highlight-film second baseman standing right next to the All-Star first baseman as he caught a Kike Hernandez pop-up for the second out of the third inning.

It didn’t matter that this was a 1-0 game and MVP-ballot players Justin Turner and Corey Seager were coming up. This is what the 2016 Cubs do. Rizzo caught the ball, quickly flipped it underhand and it bounced off Baez’s chest – in front of a sellout crowd of 54,449 and a national Fox Sports 1 audience.

“We always mess around,” Rizzo said at his locker inside a tight clubhouse jammed with media after an 8-4 win. “So I’m screaming: ‘Javy! Javy! I got it! I got it, Javy, I got it!’

“And usually he’ll yell at me: ‘Don’t miss it!’ Or I’ll yell at him: ‘Don’t miss it!’

“We do that a lot. If it’s a pop-up to him, I’ll go right behind him. It’s just little ways of slowing the game down and having fun, too.”

Rizzo is a Gold Glove-caliber first baseman for a team that led the majors in defensive efficiency this year. As a super-utility guy, Baez got credit for 11 defensive runs saved in 383 innings at second base, or one less than co-leaders Dustin Pedroia and Ian Kinsler, who each did it in almost 1,300 innings.

“Sometimes when I call (Rizzo) off to get a fly ball, he starts talking to me,” Baez said. “I tell him: ‘Hey, you can do whatever you want. Just don’t move my head. You can touch me if you want. Just don’t move my head.’

“And I told him to be ready for it, because I was going to do the same thing. You just got to be focused on the fly ball. No matter what’s happening around you, you just got to catch it.”

[SHOP: Buy a "Try Not to Suck" shirt with proceeds benefiting Joe Maddon's Respect 90 Foundation & other Cubs Charities]

This isn’t about Bartman. It’s about a group of young, confident players who are growing up together and absolutely expect to be in this position. It’s manager Joe Maddon designing “Embrace The Target” T-shirts and telling them to show up to the ballpark whenever they want and then blow off batting practice.

“For sure, we’re relaxed,” said Baez, who’s gone viral during these playoffs, the rest of the country witnessing his amazing instincts and flashy personality. “I’m relaxed when I play defense.”

The thing is, Rizzo and Baez could be playing next to each other for the next five years, the same way Kris Bryant and Addison Russell will be anchoring the left side of the infield.

This is how Rizzo introduced Russell to The Show when a natural shortstop tried to learn second base on the fly last year and track pop-ups in front of 40,000 people: “Hey, watch out for that skateboard behind you! Don’t trip!”

“Oh yeah, we yell at each other all the time,” Rizzo said. “It’s just one of those things where you got to stay loose.”

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