MESA, Ariz. There was a row of six television cameras waiting when Starlin Castro emerged from the complex to meet the press.
Cubs officials have insisted that this wont be a distraction during spring training. Before the teams first full-squad workout on Friday, their 21-year-old All-Star shortstop addressed the sexual assault allegations that surfaced during the offseason.
Im ready to play baseball, Castro said in his first public comments since meeting with Chicago police last month. In the beginning, it was tough, but Ive taken this out of my mind in preparation to play.
The incident occurred late last September, right after the Cubs ended their season and just before Castro flew back home to the Dominican Republic for the winter. He has not been charged with a crime and his lawyers have vehemently denied the allegations.
I cooperated with the police, Castro said. I dont have (anything else) to say about that. Im grateful to play baseball.
Tom Ricketts declined to say whether the authorities have contacted the Cubs to say the matter is closed. The chairman said he doesnt know any specifics about the situation and directed everything toward Castros representatives.
Those are questions for Starlin and his people, Ricketts said. Im not going to talk about it.
Castro, who did not use an interpreter while speaking with the media, was asked what hes learned through this experience.
You got to be careful, he said, because there are a lot of bad people in the world.
This will become a talking point for the Cubs, who this spring plan to bring in experts from the Northeastern University Center for Sport in Society to educate their players on how to handle fame and the spotlight.
Theo Epstein arranged for similar seminars when he ran the Boston Red Sox. The new president of baseball operations has stressed accountability, both on and off the field, and this seems to be the first test.
Believe in your family, Alfonso Soriano said. Believe in a couple guys that youve known for a long time. But dont believe in those guys that you know for like one day or one night. You have to be careful, because you are a professional player now and everybody knows you and maybe somebody wants something from you.
Soriano who worked out extensively with Castro at the Cubs academy in the Dominican Republic this offseason has maintained that his friend is innocent. Privately, people close to Castro and around the team have essentially said the same thing.
He didnt make a mistake, Soriano said. He didnt do anything wrong. I believe in him.
Castro lived with Soriano as a rookie in 2010, and the two remain close. Soriano has tried to stress what he heard as a young player coming up with the New York Yankees.
I had a lot of people that told me, Hey, just be careful, youre in New York, a little thing here is big news, Soriano recalled. I tried to tell him before this happened that hes got to be careful because this is a big city and you play for the Cubs.
Now everybody knows you, so youre not the same guy you used to be a couple years ago. You got to be careful and stay focused and play baseball and everything will come into place.
The Cubs had built marketing campaigns around Castro and put his image up on billboards. He would not talk about the incident, and the entire media session lasted less than five minutes.
Castro met individually with Epstein, general manager Jed Hoyer and manager Dale Sveum, something the staff did with each player to go over expectations. Then he went out and took grounders and swung away in the cage underneath the Arizona sunshine.
Hes put that all behind him, Sveum said. Its just great to just have him in camp. He had a smile on his face all day.