NEW YORK By Friday afternoon, Starlin Castro hadnt finalized his travel plans for the All-Star Game.
But the Cubs shortstop, along with teammate Bryan LaHair, was trying to hop on a private jet with New York Mets David Wright and R.A. Dickey and fly to Kansas City on Sunday night.
No doubt, thats better than going commercial.
Last year, Castro and then-manager Mike Quade had their flight out of Pittsburgh canceled, which was supposed to take them to Charlotte, N.C., for the connection to Phoenix. On the way home, Quade was also detained by TSA at Sky Harbor International Airport. You didnt have to look very hard to find the symbolism in all that.
Theres also something to Castro traveling Entourage-style to Kansas City, where he will meet his parents and brothers and sisters for what he hopes will become an annual family reunion. Hes a little more comfortable with the idea of being around the best players in the world.
Im going to try to be there every year, Castro said. Next year I want to be the starter. Thats what I want. Its good to be in the All-Star Game, but I want to be a starter one day.
Less than 24 hours after Dale Sveum said he couldnt afford to take Castro out of the lineup, the manager (sort of) gave him Friday off, which made it seem like a good time to assess where the Cubs are at with their franchise shortstop.
Castro was supposed to be the last player in the National League to sit out a game this season. Heading into Game 83, he had played in 714 out of 719 innings. He didnt think he needed the day off he came on in the seventh inning and has no plans of slowing down.
At the age of 22, Castro already has two .300 seasons on his big-league resume. He began the day 2-for-16 on this road trip, watching his average drop to .287.
I feel good at the home plate I hit the ball hard the last six, seven games, Castro said. I dont feel like Im lost at the home plate or something like that. I feel good. I feel (the way I did) my last two years. Its supposed to come back. Its not going to stay like that for a long time. For sure, I know that.
Castro signed with the organization as a 16-year-old out of the Dominican Republic, and needed less than 1,000 at-bats in the minor leagues before rocketing through the system. He has never lacked for drive or confidence.
Castro has drawn only 12 walks this season, but six have come within the past two weeks. The Cubs are waiting for more power (six homers) to emerge, and he will have to improve the on-base percentage (.312).
But for all the talk about whos untouchable and whos not, Theo Epstein has made it clear that Castro is a player you build around. Even if he wasnt assembled out of a Red Sox Way manual or wont be nicknamed The Greek God of Walks (like Kevin Youkilis).
(Castro) hasnt completely found his groove overall offensively this year, Epstein said recently. So when youre searching to get locked in, if youre not a naturally patient hitter anyway, it can be hard to be selective and not do more than you can.
With any 22-year-old, you start to get riled up. (But) if you take a step back, and look at the age and understand and close your eyes, (you) say: Whats this guy going to be like when hes 27?
Thats exactly the point, which is hard to make when theres so much airtime and bandwidth to fill.
No, Sveum said, he still hasnt seen any 10s yet from Castros practice sessions, and the manager admits the overall approach is still not right where you want it.
But the quantity is (there) theres no question about that, Sveum said. Hes doing all the work, as much as he possibly can, during the batting practice times. Hes doing every facet, turning double plays, throwing to first, doing the pivot. His work ethic is fine.
Sometimes he gets a little lax, and theres nothing wrong with having a little fun, too, once in awhile. You dont have to be dead serious all the time. Its a long season, as long as everythings mechanically working correctly in the game, then youll give him a little leeway sometimes.
Thats the battle with Castro, whos so naturally gifted with a rocket arm and the speed and the presence to track down balls in the outfield and into foul territory.
Castro has also completely embraced the defensive shifts and positioning pushed by this new coaching staff. Second baseman Darwin Barney has seen the improvement up close.
Its the routine plays defensively, Barney said. Hes cleaned that up a lot and has taken a lot of pride in that. He obviously brings a lot of the same things to the plate that he always has, (and he) wants to be a full, well-rounded player.
Hes only 22, and hes still in that growing process, and its kind of scary.
This is the question to remember with Castro: Where were you when you were 22?
I was playing in like Peoria, Barney said. (So) its pretty surreal to see where hes come from and where hes at. Its fun to watch.