Yesterday was an atypical Cubs day for me. It was cool, the rain drizzled on us all day long, and the game was moving at a snail's pace. It wasn't a game that lent itself to my usual observations of the play on the field. I brought my little nephew along and I was happy to divide my attention between watching the Cubs and keeping my nephew entertained, who's main concern was getting his hands on a giant cookie and a hot chocolate.
So I made my choice that this game was going to be about the kids, namely my nephew and Starlin Castro. By the end of the game, I'm not sure I was willing to lump Castro in that kid category anymore.
The first thing you notice about Castro is his confident gait up to the plate. He is completely in his element. There is no trace of doubt in his mind as he steps up there. He gives the pitcher no reason to believe he's the least bit worried. He's as cool as they come. Chipper Jones once described his attitude at the plate as "necessary arrogance". I saw the same thing with Castro. Confidence? Check.
The next thing you notice is the crack of the bat when he makes contact. Even my wife, a casual fan, noticed it. After watching the Astros hit in the 1st inning, she noted that the ball just sounds different when Castro hits it. Indeed it did. Castro's double looked like it was shot out of a rocket launcher. Even though it was hit on a direct line to the left fielder, he had no chance to catch up to it as it sailed over his head. Emerging power? Check.
I also watched him closely in the field. At no point did he look distracted. He was focused all the way, whether it was during the at-bat, in between pitches or in between innings. The incident with Bobby Valentine could have taken him in a number of different directions. He could have pouted, he could have ignored it, he could have lashed out at Valentine -- but he didn't. He was humble and he learned from it and it showed on the field yesterday. Willingness to learn from his mistakes? Check.
What's more, he had one AB yesterday where he worked the count full. Then on the next offering, he swung at a slider low and away to strike out. It made me upset but then I really noticed is that it made Castro equally upset with himself. He wasn't demonstrative in a Zambrano-like way, but he was clearly bothered that he chased that ball. The next time they tried to approach him low and away a couple of ABs later, Castro took them all and walked on 4 pitches. Ability to adjust? Check.
As far as what kind of teammate Castro is, he told the Sun-Times today that while he's immensely enjoying his personal achievements. He also said this about the Cubs season overall,
“It’s not good. It’s better when the team wins. "
Castro said he will miss his teammates Aramis Ramirez and Alfonso Soriano, as well as the coaches if they are gone next season but seems to understand it could be necessary as the team tries to improve. Team first attitude? Check.
Overall in the second half, Castro has just gotten better. He's hit for more power and his consistency on defense has improved. What's especially been encouraging is that his plate discipline seems to be improving of late. Pitchers are no longer going right after Castro as they did when he was a rookie and for the early part of this year. They're working carefully and Castro is beginning to realize he isn't always going to get that great pitch to hit. The result is that he's had 7 walks in the last 7 games. Whether that's a new trend or a statistical aberration remains to be seen, but I'm leaning toward the former right now. At least that's what I'm getting from my personal observations.
What we're seeing with Castro is a professional who's willing to work hard, adjust, and learn from his mistakes. We see a ballplayer who is learning to see the big picture while paying attention to detail -- as well as someone who is beginning to understand the game is a business while still retaining his youthful joy for the game.
In other words he's growing up right before our very eyes.
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