Castro: 'I'm ready to play baseball'

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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.

Saturday on CSN: Kyle Hendricks, Cubs face Reds

Saturday on CSN: Kyle Hendricks, Cubs face Reds

The Cubs face off against the Cincinnati Reds on Saturday, and you can catch all the cation on CSN. Coverage begins at 3:00 p.m.

Starting pitching matchup: Kyle Hendricks vs. Robert Stephenson

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World Series thank-yous follow Kris Bryant to Las Vegas

World Series thank-yous follow Kris Bryant to Las Vegas

MESA, Ariz. – Kris Bryant didn’t need to pose for a Crate & Barrel billboard in Wrigleyville or walk a goat around a Bed Bath & Beyond commercial shoot. Cub fans just kept sending him free stuff.

The wedding gifts actually shipped to his parents’ house in Las Vegas, where he honed the swing that landed him on a new Sports Illustrated cover that asked: “How Perfect is Kris Bryant?”   

This happens when you mention your registries on a late-night show with another Vegas guy (Jimmy Kimmel) after leading an iconic franchise to its first World Series title in 108 years.        

So Bryant will be the center of attention in Sin City this weekend when the Cubs play two split-squad games against the Cincinnati Reds. But that spotlight will pretty much follow the National League’s reigning MVP wherever he goes. 

At least this gives Bryant a chance to chill at the pool and organize the house he moved into in January. 

“My mom just kept throwing stuff in my car: ‘Here, take it!’” Bryant said. “Opening all those boxes, I can’t believe how many presents we got from fans. It was unbelievable. Jess is going to have to write all the thank-you notes. I’m just signing my name on them. You have literally like 700 thank-you notes to write.

“I said: ‘You need to just go get the generic thank-you.’ She’s like: ‘No, they took the time out of their day to buy us a present.’ This is going to take her the whole year. So if there’s anybody out there that’s waiting for one…”    

The wait is finally over for generations of Cub fans. Spring training will always have a “Groundhog Day” element to it. But this camp – with no major injuries so far or real roster intrigue or truly wacky stunts – has felt different. As the players get ready for a new season – one without 1908 looming over everything – they can’t escape what they did. 

“Every day something reminds me of it,” said Kyle Hendricks, who will start Saturday in Las Vegas. “Even going to throw in these spring games, when they announce your name and the whole crowd erupts because of the World Series. That wasn’t happening last year. 

“Little things like that make me notice. Something every day is brought to my attention, so it’s still getting used to that part.”  

The Cubs insist there won’t be a hangover effect in 2017, believing that this young group is too talented and too focused to get derailed by distractions and overconfidence. But the Cubs could go 0-162 this season and Bryant would still probably be breaking down boxes for recycling.   

“It’s funny,” Bryant said. “We just put cameras on my house for security and I’ll just look at it sometimes. I’ll randomly see my mom just unloading boxes. I’m like: ‘Mom, what’s going on? Are we getting more stuff?’ She’s like: ‘Yeah, we keep getting more boxes.’”