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.