The Cubs got their Wrigley Field photo op when Starlin Castro handed a No. 2 scoreboard panel to Derek Jeter.
“Awesome,” Castro said late Tuesday night. “It’s pretty good for me to be out there with that guy. He told me to keep playing hard, saying that I’m fun to watch. I said thank you. You’re feeling good when people like that tell you that.”
The marketing department once hyped Castro vs. Jeter like a prize fight and put their images on billboards, trying to promote the New York Yankees coming to the North Side during what turned out to be a disastrous 2011 season.
Anything seemed possible after a rookie season in which Castro hit .300 at the age of 20, completely skipping the Triple-A level and looking like the next iconic shortstop. He led the National League with 207 hits in 2011, earned two All-Star selections and got $60 million guaranteed.
But the Cubs have lost almost 400 games since Castro’s big-league debut in May 2010. He’s played for Lou Piniella, Mike Quade, Dale Sveum and Rick Renteria. He’s worked with hitting coaches Rudy Jaramillo, James Rowson, Rob Deer, Bill Mueller and Mike Brumley. Sveum had his own ideas about the hitting program while Theo Epstein’s front office sent top-down messages about The Cubs Way.
“Sometimes young guys get frustrated and think too much,” Alfonso Soriano said. “But I think he’s getting better mentally, because he always had the talent. I think you’ll see a little bit more. I think those little things in the past bothered him, and now he doesn’t worry anymore. He goes to the ballpark and plays every day.”
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Castro hung out with Soriano on Monday night and thinks the $136 million man is a father figure. Soriano remembered the way Jeter treated him as a young player in New York, and let the rookie stay at his place.
Castro looked lost at the plate last season, unsure of what he was supposed to do now. An eager-to-please player hit .245 with a .631 OPS, the kind of step-back season that informed the decision to fire Sveum.
“When a player has a bad season, I think that sometimes kind of spirals on him,” Cubs GM Jed Hoyer said. “We don’t have a Jumbotron here. But sometimes when you look up on the Jumbotron and see .210 or you see .216 on-base (percentage) or whatever it is, it’s kind of demoralizing.
“Players look at it and they think there’s nothing I can do right now to turn around a bad season and it kind of snowballs.”
Castro – a durable player with a strong work ethic who doesn’t like days off – has started all 44 games this season. He entered Wednesday hitting .301 with six homers and 23 RBI – and a .953 OPS through 22 games in the cleanup spot.
“Sometimes, the beauty of this game is you do hit the reset button every September/October and you start anew,” Hoyer said. “Starlin did a great job with that. He had a bad year last year, but I also think he never lost sight of the fact that he’s a good player. And obviously he’s proven that again.”
Castro is still only 24 years old, but too much of the focus has been on what he can’t do or hasn’t done yet. Instead of replaying the concentration lapses – or trying to sell the next Jeter – it’s time to let Castro play and see what he really wants to be.
“He can hit homers, because he’s got the power and the talent,” Soriano said. “He can hit 30 homers and hit for average. It all depends on him, how much he wants, because he’s got the talent and he’s working hard. He wants to be like a superstar. It depends on him.”