|Castillo Struggles to Stay at Top of Elusive Ladder|
By Staci Wolfson
To some, the opportunity to play major league baseball is a vehicle for attaining multimillion dollar contracts, unimaginable fame and the countless perks that come along with being a professional athlete.
But for Orioles reliever Alberto Castillo, that elusive chance has transcended the material bonuses.
“I’ve been playing it my whole life so it’s part of me, my whole life,” he said. Even though the left-hander didn’t make a major league club until the Orioles promoted him from Triple-A Norfolk July 8, Castillo’s ultimate goal has been professional baseball all along.
Now 33, Castillo’s long road started at the age of 9 when he began playing in his native Cuba. Baseball played a part in his leaving Cuba when in 1993 he defected to Canada during the World Junior Championships in Ontario. With the help of an American woman, he escaped from the team hotel in the middle of the night. Before he was drafted by the San Francisco Giants in 1994, Castillo played for Miami Dade Wolfson Community College in Florida, but his career stalled in the minor leagues. In the Tampa Bay farm system, he toiled for seven years before playing independent league baseball.
“I had a lot of injuries at an early age, and I just knew I always had a chance, so I just needed to keep working hard and never have a doubt,” Castillo said. “I always had faith, and I knew one day I’d have the chance to make it.”
In 2004, Castillo underwent Tommy John surgery, motivating him to get healthy and back on the field. He joined the Mexican Winter League and earned an invitation to Orioles’ spring training and eventually a spot on the Tides’ roster.
At Norfolk, Castillo was 3-1 with a 2.05 ERA in 19 games. When the Orioles placed starter Adam Loewen on the disabled list, Castillo was given the promotion.
“I was so excited, I didn’t have time to think,” he said. “But after a while, I was thinking, wow, I’m here. I’m going to be playing with the Orioles on the major league level, and it’s just a dream. I went out of my mind.”
Along with manager Dave Trembley and closer George Sherrill, Castillo is part of a contingent in the Orioles organization with extensive minor and independent league experience.
“With the experience that Castillo has, he’s pitched on national teams, you look at his background, where he’s come from, what he’s done,” Trembley said. “This guy’s pretty tough mentally. I think George Sherrill has set the tone here for giving guys opportunities. Not only here, but in baseball in general. You never know about somebody until you give them a chance. I can speak of that firsthand.”
Castillo hasn’t let his chance go to waste. He did not allow a run in his first four appearances, and his 1.23 ERA in 14.2 innings pitched is the lowest in a bullpen that has been subject to multiple shakeups this season.
Castillo has allowed only two runs so far this year on seven hits and three walks, and has struck out 13 batters.
“Like everyone says, here at the major league level you just need to throw strikes, and that’s what I do best,” he said. “No matter who is standing at the plate, either they are going to beat me or I’m going to beat them, so I’m going to throw strikes.
“My goal for myself this year was to make it to the major leagues, and I’ve reached that goal already. My next step is just to stay here. I’m going to stay as long as I can.”
Issue 3.33: August 14, 2008