Starlin Castro feels right at home in Chicago

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Starlin Castro feels right at home in Chicago

Saturday, Sept. 17, 2011Posted: 4:40 p.m.

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com Cubs Insider Follow @CSNMooney
Starlin Castros not exactly sure who wrote HOF in black ink across his white Air Jordan headband, though he has a good idea. With his black, curly hair sticking out, it doesnt make him look any older. Its almost goofy as he sits in front of a laptop watching video of his at-bats.

The Hall of Fame inscription was a joke, a sign that they like to mess around with the 21-year-old prodigy in the clubhouse. But theres no doubt that the Cubs shortstop is thinking big.

As Castro closes in on 200 hits he was only six away after Saturdays 2-1 win over the Houston Astros he has enough sense of the moment that he would like to do it at Wrigley Field. As the seasons final homestand comes to a close, you are watching the future, the new face of the franchise.

No one expects Carlos Zambrano who took up so much oxygen in the room to pitch for this team again. Kerry Wood and Ryan Dempster will each turn 35 next year.

Aramis Ramirez who has been a huge influence on Castro can elect to become a free agent at seasons end. Alfonso Soriano who let Castro stay at his place last season could be unloaded this winter if the Cubs are willing to write off a huge amount of money.

Sorianos 136 million contract has become a symbol of the old way of doing business, a public-service announcement warning against the megadeal. Castro is the homegrown shortstop out of the Dominican Republic, where the Cubs will attach his image to a new academy.

Before coming here, Castro knew almost nothing about Chicago. He had heard all about the cold weather. As a kid, he watched Michael Jordan on television (amazing). Now hes found one Dominican restaurant where he can get home-cooking, and hes taken care of at his favorite steakhouse downtown.

I love this city, Castro said. The people are nice. (They) dont bother you. (But) they recognize me, more right now than last year. Everywhere I go, everybody knows me: Oh, its Starlin Castro.

Castro doubled off the ivy in left on Saturday to reach base for the 30th consecutive game. The last Cubs shortstop to do that was Ernie Banks in 1960. Castro will finish this season with around 350 career hits, all before his 22nd birthday.

If youre in the same conversation as Ernie Banks, I dont think I can embellish on that at all, manager Mike Quade said. Hes done a great job offensively all year. Its really something to see a kid that young so accomplished at this point in his career.

Whats next for an encore?

Every time I go into the season Im trying to do 200 hits and make the All-Star Game, Castro said before smiling. Like Ichiro.

Castros so driven that he slammed his bat and helmet to the ground on Saturday after striking out swinging to end the second inning. His increasing grasp of the English language was accelerated by watching ESPN and MLB Network highlights. He has an understanding of the sports history, and his place within it.

I respect everybody in the game, Castro said. Sometimes I look at another guy thats older than me and say, Oh, I want to be like this guy in the future. You know, he hits like .330, 30 homers, 100 RBI, something like that. I think about (what) I want to be one (day).

That power and the marketing opportunities that will come along with it should be the next frontier of his game. Once those line drives start soaring into the seats, Soriano is not alone in thinking that Castro will be a .300 hitter with 20-plus homers annually.

Castros parents, who lived with him this summer, have gone back to the Dominican Republic. One younger brother went home along with them, while another remained in Chicago.

Castro does not own this city yet. But across the next decade, it wouldnt be surprising to see the next generation wearing the jerseys of Castro, Derrick Rose, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.

Soon Castro will return home to Monte Cristi, where everyone knows his name. Hall of Fame pitcher Juan Marichal is the only other All-Star from that small city that Castro can recall.

After these final 10 games, Castro will chill at home and rest for two or three weeks. He hasnt decided whether or not hes going to play winter ball. Cooperstown or not, hes shown no signs of slowing down yet.

I feel ready to finish strong, Castro said. Sometimes (Im mentally) a little tired. But I keep going. I keep working.

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Jon Lester explains absence from Cubs' White House trip: 'Absolutely nothing political'

Jon Lester explains absence from Cubs' White House trip: 'Absolutely nothing political'

Jon Lester didn't make any sort of statement by missing Monday's White House trip with his Cubs teammates. But at a polarizing moment in a divided country, a high-profile player on a World Series team felt the need to respond on social media and explain his absence from the championship ceremony. 

President Barack Obama name-checked Lester during his East Room speech – both for his spectacular pitching performance and beat-cancer charitable initiatives – as the Cubs continued their victory tour off the franchise's first World Series title since Theodore Roosevelt lived in the White House.

Lester stood behind Obama when the 2013 Boston Red Sox were honored on the South Lawn. During that 2014 ceremony, Lester stood next to John Lackey, another Cub who missed this Washington trip. Lester also toured George W. Bush's White House with Boston's 2007 championship team.

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day – and with the specter of Donald Trump's inauguration looming – Obama used his administration's final official White House event to draw a direct line between him and Jackie Robinson and highlight the connective power of sports.

"The best part was the president talking about how sports brings people together," All-Star first baseman Anthony Rizzo said, "how no matter what's going on in this country and the world, three or four hours of any one particular game can just rally so many people together." 

This team couldn't have created so much joy for generations of fans without Lester, who signed a $155 million contract with the last-place Cubs after the 2014 season, a transformational moment during the long rebuild that led to the White House trip that Obama never thought would happen.

"It was a thrill and an honor for all of us," team president Theo Epstein said. "It means so much more with his roots in Chicago and his final days in office. It couldn't have worked out any better. It's something we'll all remember for our whole lives."

The time Addison Russell froze up after getting a text from Eddie George

The time Addison Russell froze up after getting a text from Eddie George

Plenty of Cubs fans surely were star-struck to meet Addison Russell at Cubs Convention last weekend. But the 22-year-old All-Star shortstop has a shortlist of people he would be amazed to meet, too. 

Russell reveres President Barack Obama, on Friday the outgoing Commander-in-Chief's work in the community when talking about getting to visit the White House. So on Monday, Russell got to check off meeting one of the people on his list. "There's probably about three people that I would be star-struck by, and (Obama's) one of them," Russell said. 

One of those three spots is "open," Russell said. The other member of that list is former Ohio State and Tennessee Titans running back Eddie George. 

Russell wears his No. 27 because of George, who wore that number during his career in which he made four Pro Bowls and rushed for over 10,000 yards and 78 touchdowns. Prior to the 2016 season, George sent Russell and autographed Titans helmet inscribed with good luck message.

After the season, Russell said George texted him seeing if the newly-crowned champion had time to chill. Few things rattled Russell last year — he became the youngest player to hit a grand slam in the World Series when he blasted one in Game 6 against the Cleveland Indians last November — but getting a text from George did. "I couldn't text back," Russell said. "It was nuts. I waited four days because I was thinking of what back to say."

Even the most famous athletes still get star-struck. Russell's been lucky enough in the last few months to meet and hear from two of the people who bring out that sense of awe in him. "Just to come in contact with people like that, it just makes me smile," Russell said. "It definitely gets me in the mood of getting better, and that's the goal this year, is getting better."