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.