Hours before Perfect Game Watch began, Starlin Castro took groundballs inside an empty Wrigley Field, part of the routine he believes will make him an All-Star shortstop again.
Jason Hammel didn't make history on Wednesday night, settling for a 7-5 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates. Hammel retired 12 in a row before Pedro Alvarez crushed a ball into the left-field bleachers. Castro didn't sprint across the grass and climb the brick wall to steal a home run.
But it seemed like Castro was everywhere, charging a chopper and crossing the second-base side of the bag, diving to his left and throwing out leadoff guy Starling Marte and backpedaling to make a catch in shallow center field.
"I take early work every day," Castro said. "I come in here every day for defensive work. Every day."
That usually gets overlooked in all the Castro over-analysis, wondering where he fits in the lineup and treating every error as if it's a referendum on whether or not he should be the shortstop of the future.
"I can see why he's here for a while," said Hammel (2-0, 2.63 ERA). "Outstanding ability. Unbelievable plays up the middle for me that shut down innings."
Maybe it's just the nature of Twitter and talk radio and having to feed the beast on the Internet. Maybe Bobby Valentine's criticism on national television hardened perceptions and too many short-attention-span clips went viral.
But do you know any other two-time All-Stars with 700-plus career hits at age 24 that don't get the benefit of the doubt? So whatever Theo Epstein's front office says is gospel...except when the smartest guys in the room say "Castro is our shortstop?"
It's especially perplexing when Cubs fans and the Chicago media try to figure out how every C-list prospect might fit into the organization's plans - and become obsessed with promising but still unproven players like Mike Olt and Javier Baez.
"You know Starlin will be Starlin," catcher Welington Castillo said. "He's got his ability there. He's going to do whatever it takes to come back and be the Starlin he was a couple years before. Everybody goes through hard times in the big leagues."
Yes, Castro got frustrated when Dale Sveum dropped him to the eighth spot last summer, reaching a breaking point with all the organization's mixed messages. And the Cubs did hire a new manager with bilingual skills and a more upbeat attitude, writing a job description that also had first baseman Anthony Rizzo's inconsistencies in mind.
But Castro's not some diva. He's not a complainer. He'll stand at his locker and answer all the questions.
"I want to hit with men in scoring position," Castro said. "I don't care what spot (Rick Renteria) puts me in. He tries to put me in a spot in a good way, not in a bad way. Not because I didn't do this or I didn't do that. He trusts me and is trying to move me to bring in more RBIs."
Renteria hit Castro sixth on Tuesday night, and he responded with the first two-homer game in his career, before getting bumped back up to the No. 2 spot. Whether Renteria's winning the mind games - or Castro's simply relaxing and naturally returning to what made him the National League's hits leader in 2011 - the Cubs need their $60 million shortstop.
"When he swings the bat, he puts the barrel on the ball. He's a pretty dangerous guy," Renteria said. "Defensively, he's been working very hard at trying to improve his game and he's taking it very seriously. We're very happy that he's going out with a little jump in his step. It looks like he feels comfortable."
Castro is riding a six-game hitting streak after an 0-for-9 start that got blown out of proportion, batting .400 (10-for-25) and playing with an edge again.
"Last year is over," Castro said. "I try to keep my mind strong and not let those things happen again. Not only on offense, but defense, too."