Cubs

Castro case hangs over Cubs Convention

641400.png

Castro case hangs over Cubs Convention

The Cubs thought they had their All-Star shortstop for the next decade, a potential star with a great name and a big smile that could be beamed around the world.

Starlin Castro can still be all of those things. He is only 21 years old and has not been charged with a crime. The organization has his back and privately has expressed confidence that this will be resolved.

But as the Cubs Convention opened on Friday, Castro was the biggest question mark hanging over this marketing event. He had traveled from the Dominican Republic but was sequestered away from the media, hours after meeting with Chicago police about an alleged sexual assault that happened more than three months ago.

The crowd inside a Hilton Chicago ballroom cheered loudly when Castro walked out onto the balcony during player introductions. Hes supposed to sign autographs on Saturday, but will almost certainly be off-limits to reporters.

Castro has worked hard to learn English, though he still uses an interpreter for many interviews. He released a statement through the team that said he has fully cooperated with the police in this matter and cant say anything more while the investigation is taking place.

I understand that being a member of the Cubs means being a hard worker on the field and a good citizen off the field, Castros statement said, and I always want to carry myself in a way that exceeds high expectations.

Alfonso Soriano has become a mentor of sorts to Castro. During a breakout 2010 season, Castro moved into Sorianos place for awhile. The two have spoken a few times this offseason.

Its very tough because Castros like my kid, Soriano said. I believe in him and I know who he is. But sometimes when youre famous and young, you dont know who wants to do good for you and who wants to do bad.

He (didnt) do that, because I know him. But (sometimes people) want to try to take advantage of that.

Every time I said to him: You have to be careful because you know whos good and whos bad. So if youve known a guy for a long time, you can talk to this guy. If you know one guy for one day, you dont have to trust him. Im very sad (about) what happened to him.

By late Friday afternoon, Theo Epstein said he hadnt been briefed on Castros meeting with police: Were eager to get updates, but were not a true party to this investigation, so were getting the information as it comes.

The Cubs president of baseball operations otherwise declined to comment and again stressed waiting to see how the situation develops.

I urge everyone to have a little patience, Epstein said. I think with stories like this, you dont want to jump to conclusions until facts are available.

Whatever the endgame, this should be a lesson for any player coming up through the system. The Cubs were trying to not talk about law and order on a day where they were trying to sell tickets and sunshine in the Wrigley Field bleachers.

The rookie-development program Epstein plans to bring over from the Boston Red Sox next winter already has its first cautionary tale.

We have a responsibility, too, to make sure our players know whats acceptable and whats not acceptable, Epstein said. We want to arm them with the knowledge necessary and techniques for how to handle themselves in difficult situations off the field.

Were going to have some (sessions) during spring training that will reflect some important values. And it really starts in the minor leagues. You have to educate these kids while theyre still kids, before they get up here and have to deal with some really difficult situations.

Cubs Talk Podcast: Sitting down with new Cubs coaches Chili Davis and Jim Hickey

2-21_jim_hickey_usat.jpg
USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Sitting down with new Cubs coaches Chili Davis and Jim Hickey

Spring training baseball games are up around the bend, but before the boys of summer get into organized action, two of the team’s new coaches Chili Davis and Jim Hickey sit down with Kelly Crull.

Plus, Vinnie Duber joins Kelly to discuss these baseball conversations including the memorable first words of Kyle Schwarber to Chili Davis, “I don’t suck!"

Listen to the full episode at this link (iOS users can go here) or in the embedded player below. Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts.

Changes aren't exactly popular, but Cubs and Sox — except maybe Willson Contreras — will adapt to baseball's new pace-of-play rules

Changes aren't exactly popular, but Cubs and Sox — except maybe Willson Contreras — will adapt to baseball's new pace-of-play rules

MESA, Ariz. — We know Willson Contreras doesn’t like baseball’s new pace-of-play rules.

He isn’t the only one.

“I think it’s a terrible idea. I think it’s all terrible,” Jon Lester said last week at spring training, before the specifics of the new rules were even announced. “The beautiful thing about our sport is there’s no time.”

Big surprise coming from the Cubs’ resident old-schooler.

The new rules limit teams to six mound visits per every nine-inning game, with exceptions for pitching changes, between batters, injuries and after the announcement of a pinch hitter. Teams get an extra mound visit for every extra inning in extra-inning games. Also, commercial breaks between innings have been cut by 20 seconds.

That’s it. But it’s caused a bit of an uproar.

Contreras made headlines Tuesday when he told reporters that he’ll willingly break those rules if he needs to in order to put his team in a better position to win.

“I’ve been reading a lot about this rule, and I don’t really care. If I have to pay the price for my team, I will,” Contreras said. “There’s six mound visits, but what if you have a tight game? … You have to go out there. They cannot say anything about that. It’s my team, and we just care about winning. And if they’re going to fine me about the No. 7 mound visit, I’ll pay the price.”

Talking about pace-of-play rule changes last week, Cubs manager Joe Maddon said his team would adapt to any new rules. In Chicago baseball’s other Arizona camp, a similar tune of adaptation was being sung.

“Obviously as players we’ve got to make adjustments to whatever rules they want to implement,” White Sox pitcher James Shields said. “This is a game of adjustments, we’re going to have to make adjustments as we go. We’re going to have to figure out logistics of the thing, and I would imagine in spring training we’re going to be talking about it more and more as we go so we don’t mess it up.”

There was general consensus that mound visits are a valuable thing. So what happens if a pitcher and catcher need to communicate but are forced to do it from 60 feet, six inches away?

“Sign language,” White Sox catching prospect Zack Collins joked. “I guess you have to just get on the same page in the dugout and hope that nothing goes wrong if you’re out of visits.”

In the end, here’s the question that needs answering: Are baseball games really too long?

On one hand, as Lester argued, you know what you’re signing up for when you watch a baseball game, be it in the stands at a ballpark or on TV. No one should be shocked when a game rolls on for more than three hours.

But shock and fans' levels of commitment or just pure apathy are two different things. And sometimes it’s a tough ask for fans to dedicate four hours of their day 162 times a year. So there’s a very good reason baseball is trying to make the game go faster, to keep people from leaving the stands or flipping the TV to another channel.

Unsurprisingly, Lester would rather keep things the way they are.

“To be honest with you, the fans know what they’re getting themselves into when they go to a game,” Lester said. “It’s going to be a three-hour game. You may have a game that’s two hours, two hours and 15 minutes. Great, awesome. You may have a game that’s four hours. That’s the beautiful part of it.

“I get the mound visit thing. But what people that aren’t in the game don’t understand is that there’s so much technology in the game, there’s so many cameras on the field, that every stadium now has a camera on the catcher’s crotch. So they know signs before you even get there. Now we’ve got Apple Watches, now we’ve got people being accused of sitting in a tunnel (stealing signs). So there’s reasons behind the mound visit. He’s not just coming out there asking what time I’m going to dinner or, ‘Hey, how you feeling?’ There’s reasons behind everything, and I think if you take those away, it takes away the beauty of the baseball game.

“Every game has a flow, and I feel like that’s what makes it special. If you want to go to a timed event, go to a timed event. I’m sorry I’m old-school about it, but baseball’s been played the same way for a long time. And now we’re trying to add time to it. We’re missing something somewhere.”

Whether limiting the number of mound visits creates a significant dent in this problem remains to be seen. But excuse the players if they’re skeptical.

“We’ve got instant replay, we’ve got all kinds of different stuff going on. I don’t think (limiting) the mound visits are going to be the key factor to speeding this game up,” Shields said. “Some pitchers take too long, and some hitters take too long. It’s combination of a bunch of stuff.

“I know they’re trying to speed the game up a little bit. I think overall, the game’s going as fast as it possibly could. You’ve got commercials and things like that. TV has a lot to do with it. There’s a bunch of different combinations of things. But as a player, we’ve got to make an adjustment.”