For a number of Cubs fans, Nick Castellanos is the one who got away.
Castellanos left a lasting impression on Cubs fans, following a trade from the Tigers in July 2019. Even today, as he plays for the division rival Reds, he has fans among the North Side faithful.
As much as Cubs fans appreciate Castellanos, though, the feeling is mutual.
“They leveled me up,” Castellanos said Monday at All-Star Game media availability.
Before his trade to the Cubs, Castellanos played for a Tigers team in the midst of a third straight losing season. Detroit was (and still is) rebuilding, and Castellanos knew they weren’t likely to keep him long term, he said.
“The perspective up until I was in Chicago, I was playing baseball to kind of survive,” he said. “You get to a sad place in baseball where you’re playing solely for statistics.
“That’s a terrible way to go about playing a game of failure.”
Getting traded to the Cubs reinvigorated Castellanos. He was playing in a pennant race for the first time in years, for a team that made the previous four postseasons, in front of a consistently electric atmosphere at Wrigley Field.
“Getting traded to Chicago and all of a sudden being on a team where winning was important and the fans were 100 percent behind us and rooting for us,” Castellanos said, “it was like playing a brand new game.”
If it was a brand new game, Castellanos made it look easy. In 51 games with the Cubs, he hit .321/.356/.646 with 21 doubles, 16 home runs and 36 RBIs.
“I felt different, I moved different, I ran different, I handled situations different, I became different,” he said. “It was a lot of fun.
"A crazy two months, honestly.”
Cubs fans held out hope the club would re-sign Castellanos in free agency in the ensuing offseason, but he joined Cincinnati on a four-year deal. He made his first career All-Star team this season, behind a terrific first half at the plate.
A new level of his career started in Chicago.
“It was their energy and their love for the city of Chicago and how they showed up and the passion that they showed," he said of Cubs fans.
"That brought emotions out that I haven’t had since I was a little kid.”
Contributing from Denver: Maddie Lee