ST. LOUIS – Starlin Castro doesn’t whine or make excuses or find ways to get out of the lineup. He doesn’t duck the media or run from the criticism. He’s a tough player, a lot harder to replace than simply anointing the next Cubs shortstop.
It’s been an emotionally draining time in a career that’s already seen so many ups and downs, but Castro always tries to be the same guy every day, accepting the responsibility that comes with being a face of the franchise.
Castro opened up in the middle of Saturday’s doubleheader at Busch Stadium, standing in front of his locker after a 5-1 victory over the Cardinals in Game 1. A sellout crowd of 44,755 had watched Castro slam Justin Masterson’s pitch off the second-deck facing, a fifth-inning missile that left no doubt.
It didn’t matter how hard Castro ran out of the box. He could jog the rest of the way after matching his career high in home runs (14), part of a bounce-back All-Star season that sometimes gets lost in all the instant outrage on Twitter.
Castro stays above that, trying to honor the loved ones he recently lost in a fatal car crash in the Dominican Republic, a sudden tragedy that forced him to go on the bereavement list on Aug. 21 and head back home to deal with a family crisis.
“It’s a really tough moment for me,” Castro said, “because I lost one of my best friends, one cousin and two more guys in the same neighborhood. It is really tough, but every time I talked with those guys, they would always tell me: ‘We feel good seeing you do your job.’
“I had to go there and see those guys for the last time. (I remember how) the only thing they say is: ‘Keep playing hard, we’ll be happy. Always.’ That’s what I (put) in my mind to keep going: I can do anything.
“The only guy that knows (why) is God and He does things for a reason. It’s tough. Just try to be strong. Every day I pray to God to be strong because it’s really tough. Just come in here every day to try to make those guys happy.”
Castro rejoined the team in Cincinnati, where Jorge Soler homered with his first big-league swing on Wednesday night. But that 7-5 loss to the Reds became another State of Castro breakdown after he admired a long single to center that bounced off the wall at Great American Ball Park, potentially short-circuiting a late rally.
Castro doesn’t believe he gets singled out or unfairly criticized.
“No, no, I don’t think so,” Castro said. “I think the reason is everybody that comes in here looks at me and looks at (Anthony) Rizzo. We have to play hard to show those young guys coming up: ‘He’s here for a long time and he’s running hard and he plays hard.’
“It’s a mistake on my (part). I don’t have any excuse for this. We’re talking a lot and we try to do it together. We’re already a young team. We just try to have everybody come in here and play hard. If young guys come in here and see me not play hard, they don’t do it.
“When that thing happens, I apologize to the team, because it’s really my fault. I don’t have any excuse for this. There’s not an excuse for this.”
It looked like Castro wanted to make up for it on Friday night at Busch Stadium, getting thrown out trying to stretch a double into a triple during a 7-2 win over the Cardinals. But otherwise it’s hard to remember the last time he had a glaring mental lapse. His concentration has improved, he feels that confidence again and he now has three All-Star selections before turning 25.
After Theo Epstein fired manager Dale Sveum last year, the president of baseball operations talked about how “there has to be love before there’s tough love.” So Castro’s relationship with Rick Renteria – his fourth manager in five seasons – would be under the microscope.
“I clearly believe that he’s gotten better,” Renteria said. “I think the conversation has changed about him a little bit. I don’t think it’s just simply pick on him. I don’t see that at all. I think that people have been recognizing how he’s been going about doing his business, and rightfully so.
“Everybody has the right to judge us when we fail at doing something. (That’s) just part of the way the landscape is. The question is: Can we all learn from our own mistakes?
“Here’s a young man who feels bad when he doesn’t do well. He takes it to heart. I know people may not necessarily believe it, but he does.”
Castro understands that he has to set the example, because he has $60 million guaranteed and the Cubs are trying to establish an identity.
“Everybody looks at us,” Castro said. “Look at me, look at Rizzo – everybody comes in here to play hard. (Don’t) even think: ‘Yo, I’m in the big leagues.’ No, just come in here to play hard, because the reason (we’re here) is to win.”
Castro still remembers what Alfonso Soriano told him, how the $136 million man came to work every day and never stopped trying to get better.
“Don’t even think about money,” Castro said. “Don’t think about (anything else). You’re here already. No matter what, they have to pay you. But sometimes young guys look at you and only think about money. They can’t do that.
“But if you show we don’t care about money – we’re here, the money’s going to be there – (then) no matter what, (we’ll) just try to play hard and try to win. Because that’s the only reason we’re here: Win.”