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Starlin Castro feels right at home in Chicago

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Starlin Castro feels right at home in Chicago

Saturday, Sept. 17, 2011Posted: 4:40 p.m.

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com Cubs Insider Follow @CSNMooney
Starlin Castros not exactly sure who wrote HOF in black ink across his white Air Jordan headband, though he has a good idea. With his black, curly hair sticking out, it doesnt make him look any older. Its almost goofy as he sits in front of a laptop watching video of his at-bats.

The Hall of Fame inscription was a joke, a sign that they like to mess around with the 21-year-old prodigy in the clubhouse. But theres no doubt that the Cubs shortstop is thinking big.

As Castro closes in on 200 hits he was only six away after Saturdays 2-1 win over the Houston Astros he has enough sense of the moment that he would like to do it at Wrigley Field. As the seasons final homestand comes to a close, you are watching the future, the new face of the franchise.

No one expects Carlos Zambrano who took up so much oxygen in the room to pitch for this team again. Kerry Wood and Ryan Dempster will each turn 35 next year.

Aramis Ramirez who has been a huge influence on Castro can elect to become a free agent at seasons end. Alfonso Soriano who let Castro stay at his place last season could be unloaded this winter if the Cubs are willing to write off a huge amount of money.

Sorianos 136 million contract has become a symbol of the old way of doing business, a public-service announcement warning against the megadeal. Castro is the homegrown shortstop out of the Dominican Republic, where the Cubs will attach his image to a new academy.

Before coming here, Castro knew almost nothing about Chicago. He had heard all about the cold weather. As a kid, he watched Michael Jordan on television (amazing). Now hes found one Dominican restaurant where he can get home-cooking, and hes taken care of at his favorite steakhouse downtown.

I love this city, Castro said. The people are nice. (They) dont bother you. (But) they recognize me, more right now than last year. Everywhere I go, everybody knows me: Oh, its Starlin Castro.

Castro doubled off the ivy in left on Saturday to reach base for the 30th consecutive game. The last Cubs shortstop to do that was Ernie Banks in 1960. Castro will finish this season with around 350 career hits, all before his 22nd birthday.

If youre in the same conversation as Ernie Banks, I dont think I can embellish on that at all, manager Mike Quade said. Hes done a great job offensively all year. Its really something to see a kid that young so accomplished at this point in his career.

Whats next for an encore?

Every time I go into the season Im trying to do 200 hits and make the All-Star Game, Castro said before smiling. Like Ichiro.

Castros so driven that he slammed his bat and helmet to the ground on Saturday after striking out swinging to end the second inning. His increasing grasp of the English language was accelerated by watching ESPN and MLB Network highlights. He has an understanding of the sports history, and his place within it.

I respect everybody in the game, Castro said. Sometimes I look at another guy thats older than me and say, Oh, I want to be like this guy in the future. You know, he hits like .330, 30 homers, 100 RBI, something like that. I think about (what) I want to be one (day).

That power and the marketing opportunities that will come along with it should be the next frontier of his game. Once those line drives start soaring into the seats, Soriano is not alone in thinking that Castro will be a .300 hitter with 20-plus homers annually.

Castros parents, who lived with him this summer, have gone back to the Dominican Republic. One younger brother went home along with them, while another remained in Chicago.

Castro does not own this city yet. But across the next decade, it wouldnt be surprising to see the next generation wearing the jerseys of Castro, Derrick Rose, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.

Soon Castro will return home to Monte Cristi, where everyone knows his name. Hall of Fame pitcher Juan Marichal is the only other All-Star from that small city that Castro can recall.

After these final 10 games, Castro will chill at home and rest for two or three weeks. He hasnt decided whether or not hes going to play winter ball. Cooperstown or not, hes shown no signs of slowing down yet.

I feel ready to finish strong, Castro said. Sometimes (Im mentally) a little tired. But I keep going. I keep working.

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Albert Almora's strong connection to Team USA baseball

Albert Almora's strong connection to Team USA baseball

Who was Theo Epstein’s first draft pick with the Cubs?

The answer to that trivia question will always and forever be Albert Almora Jr. picked sixth overall in the 2012 amateur draft.

In some ways, the young outfielder from Florida became the forgotten man in the stable of can’t-miss prospects that Epstein and top lieutenants Jed Hoyer and Jason MacLeod amassed since their arrival over six years ago. While players such as Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Ian Happ zoomed through the minor leagues on their way to the majors, Almora took a different path – one that included seven different stops over parts of five developmental seasons before he broke into the big leagues during the 2016 season.

But Almora’s road to the majors began years before he was selected by the Cubs, when he began playing for Team USA as a 13-year-old. Over the next several years, Almora played for the Red, White & Blue seven times, his final appearance coming in 2015. The seven appearances are the most in the history of USA Baseball, and Almora recognizes the impact his time with the national squad had on his playing career.

“[It was] one of the best experiences of my life," he said. "Every year I had something special to play with, unbelievable guys, went to crazy places, and out of those six years, five of them came with a gold medal so that was pretty special as well. Also, that helped me in my baseball life, how to experience things and learn from those type of experiences.

“I’m a Cubbie and that’s what’s on my chest right now, but Team USA will always have a special place in my heart.”

While Almora carries those national team experiences with him every day, his main focus coming into the 2018 season is becoming a consistent difference-maker. Almora made only 65 starts during the 2017 campaign, and 63 percent of his at-bats last year came against left-handed pitching, against which he hit a robust .342. That led to a platoon role in a crowded outfield, with Jason Heyward, Kyle Schwarber, Jon Jay, Ian Happ and Ben Zobrist all taking turns on the merry-go-round. But with the departure of Jay, Almora believes his time is near.

“I have the most confidence in myself that I can play every day, but I try not to think about that kind of stuff because it’s out of my control," Almora said. "All I control is like last year what I did; whenever I was given an opportunity, I tried to do my best and help the team win.”

Almora’s ultimate role on the 2018 Cubs remains to be seen, but there’s no question that Theo’s first Cubs pick will earn whatever role he ends up with, and the foundation of Almora’s journey to Clark and Addison was laid many summers ago during his time with Team USA.

Willson Contreras willing to pay the price for mound visits

Willson Contreras willing to pay the price for mound visits

News broke to Willson Contreras that the league will be limiting mound visits this upcoming season, and the Cubs catcher —notorious for his frequent visits to the rubber — is not having it.

“I’ve been reading a lot about this rule, and I don’t really care. If you have to go again and pay the price for my team, I will," he said.

The new rules rolled out Tuesday will limit six visits —any time a manager, coach or player visits the mound — per nine innings. But, communication between a player and a pitcher that does not require them moving from their position does not count as a visit.When a team is out of visits, it's the umpire's discretion to allow an extra trip to the mound.

But despite the new rules, Contreras is willing to do what's best for the team.

“There’s six mound visits, but what if you have a tight game? They cannot say anything about that. If you’re going to fine me about the [seventh] mound visit, I’ll pay the price.”