When the garden variety Mets fan thinks about Luis Castillo, the first thing that rushes to their mind is the infamous dropped pop up against the Yankees.
If not that, it's the ridiculous four-year contract extension that he received from general manager Omar Minaya. Twenty-five million dollars for a second baseman who was already old and physically drained.
Call me crazy, but I've always been able to sweep those disasters under the rug when it comes to Mr. Castillo. Now, I'm not an insider that's prepared to dazzle you with astounding peripheral statistics; in fact, I'm just a 24-year old with a dead-end job that loves baseball with every ounce of my being.
But when I think about Luis Castillo, I think about everything that is right about the game of baseball. I think about everything that has allowed baseball to garner the weighty nickname of "America's Pastime."
Castillo isn't a power-hitting second baseman. He wasn't blessed with incredible natural ability, and he certainly won't be a Hall of Famer.
But what Castillo is, is a winning ballplayer. He's not the dynamic speedster he was with the Florida Marlins, and his range isn't there defensively; but, technically speaking, he continues to play the game correctly .
He gets everything he possibly can from his 5-foot-11, 195-pound (drastically over-listed), broken-down body.
When his heartless Met teammates go down consecutively to start an inning, he takes the first pitch, instead of making it easy on the opposing pitcher by rolling over in one-two-three fashion.
In the ninth inning, when the Mets were down 13-1 against the Diamondbacks last week, he busted around the bases to score from first on a David Wright double. The way the Mets have been swinging the bats lately, that game was long over.
But Castillo never takes anything for granted. When I watch him play, I know he's truly grateful for the blessing he's received. He gets to play baseball, at the game's very highest level, for a living.
When I watch Castillo play, I know that he understands how many people would kill to be in his position. That's why he plays hurt until the Mets' training staff is forced to shut him down. That's why he busts it around the bases when it may not be the best idea for him physically.
Luis Castillo is a ballplayer, all the way down to his core. The game is in his blood. Every game matters. Every out matters. Every pitch matters.
And you can be damn sure that he knows that.
I pitch in an 18-and-older hardball league, and last night we had our final playoff game. In the bottom of the second inning, I was trailing 1-0 to a lineup that physically, was far superior to me.
They had two runners in scoring position with two outs, and the count was 1-2. After seven consecutive breaking balls over the span of two at bats, I guided a 70 MPH fastball over the meat of the outside corner.
As I drifted off the mound, ecstatic about escaping the jam, the umpire never raised his hand. He never made a sound.
The very next pitch, the number nine hitter tapped a roller up the middle for an RBI single. The opposition never looked back. My team never recovered.
That pitch mattered. Not getting that call was like getting drilled in the back by a 90 MPH fastball. I knew that one pitch was the entire game.
On second thought, maybe I'm not making any sense.
I guess all I can really say is...
Luis Castillo knows what I'm talking about.
(John Frascella is the author of "Theo-logy: How a Boy Wonder Led the Red Sox to the Promised Land," the first and only book centered on Boston 's popular GM Theo Epstein. Check it out on Amazon.com or Barnes and Noble online. Follow John on Twitter @RedSoxAuthor.)
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