September 4, 2008 September 4, 2008Posted by atlanticleaguenews in Uncategorized.
Castillo An Unlikely Big Leaguer: BOSTON, MA — A large part of the appeal in going to affiliated Minor League Baseball games is that you know that you’ll be seeing players who will go on to play in the big leagues one day.
The Atlantic League primarily serves as a home for players who have fallen through the cracks of affiliated ball, a home that ultimately becomes the last stop in many a career.
So if I asked you to raise your hand if you ever thought that Baltimore Orioles reliever Alberto Castillo would ever get to the big leagues after spending five seasons pitching in the Atlantic League, you might only see one hand up.
“I went to spring training trying to make the club, and I was pitching well,” he said.
“I was getting lefties out, which is what they wanted me to do. So I went to Triple-A, and I started getting lefties out and I was doing really well, so I thought that maybe there was a chance for me up here. I always thought there was a chance.”
Castillo’s Atlantic League journey began in 2002, when he made 28 appearances for the Newark Bears. He pitched for the Bears again in 2003, before joining the Atlantic City Surf in 2004.
But following arm surgery after that season, he missed the next year and wasn’t sure if he’d ever pitch again.
“Coming back from the surgery after that year with Atlantic City, it was tough,” he said.
But he came back in 2006, and found himself wearing Road Warriors gray.
“(They) were the lowest team in the Atlantic League, but I’d never regret playing for them,” he said.
“I had a lot of fun playing for them, and I really enjoyed playing for Jeff (Scott). But I had to start somewhere, and that’s where I started. It was two years on the road that I spent there to come to the major leagues. It’s been fun.”
Playing in the Atlantic League can be difficult for any player. One of the biggest complaints throughout the 11-year history of the league has been the small paychecks, and for someone like Castillo, who never really got to make a lot of money in affiliated baseball, that was something that started to wear on him and his family.
“I was getting close to retirement. I was 31 when I started playing for the Road Warriors,” he said.
“Then the next year, I was like ‘(Shoot), I’d better hurry up and do something.’ But I worked hard, and I did the best I could and I got lucky. But it was hard. I had a wife and a kid, and I wasn’t making any money and sometimes it was stressful. You have to pay some bills, and you don’t have enough and you have to take from (your) savings, it was tough. My wife and I, we went through a tough time then. But I believed in myself, and I hoped something had to happen after this. Even if it’s not a Major League job, it will be something else. I kept pushing and pushing and we’ll see what happens.”
What happened was the 33-year-old got the call that so many players in the Atlantic League never get to experience.
“We knew somebody was going to come up because (Adam) Loewen got hurt, and we knew it was going to be a lefty,” he said.
“So I was trying to figure it out, and if they were going to get a lefty up, I was doing the job and there was a good chance that it was going to be me. I was nervous just thinking about it, and sure enough after the game, (Norfolk manager) Gary (Allenson) called me into the office and said, ‘Congratulations,’ and it was amazing.”
Castillo would make his Major League debut on April 28th against the White Sox, and got the win in the Orioles 4-3 victory.
He says the whole big league experience has been everything he hoped it would be.
“It’s great, it’s just amazing,” he said.
“It’s like a dream come true. This is what I always wanted, to be in the big leagues. It’s been 14-15 years trying to make it over here, and I finally got my wish.”
Facing an Atlantic League lineup and facing a Major League lineup are obviously two very different things. Whereas most Atlantic League lineups have one or two guys who can hurt you, many big league lineups, especially in the potent AL East division, are loaded with players who can do some serious damage to your statistics. This fact isn’t lost on the Cuban born southpaw.
“It’s a lot different,” he said.
“Every lineup we face has great hitters, but you can’t think about it. You have to take the mound and make your pitches and let it happen for you. In the independent league, they have good hitters, but it isn’t the major leagues. You don’t get any breaks. You have to be focused from the first pitch to the last pitch when they take you out.”
Castillo’s story has garnered national attention, and has also earned him the respect of the clubhouse, particularly one prominent player who also spent some time in independent baseball.
“I love his story,” said Kevin Millar, who started his career with the St. Paul Saints in 1993.
“He’s a great guy, and he knows how hard he’s had to fight. But being an independent league player myself, you appreciate the time up here.”
Great story aside, Castillo has been performing on the field, currently sporting a 1-0 record and 3.68 ERA in 22 appearances for Baltimore.
“He really has helped out our club, I don’t think he’s a very comfortable at-bat for left-handed power hitters,” Millar said.
“He’s done a great job against lefties, he gives you a bunch of different angles. He really deserves to be here. Anyone that plays in some of the places he has, it’s neat to root for a guy like that.”
Little did Castillo know that he has a whole league rooting for him.
Despite the Road Warriors no longer existing, and the Atlantic League finally being in Castillo’s rear-view mirror, he still keeps track of the league and recently visited some former teammates in York during an off day.
“(The guys) were happy to see me,” he said.
“They told me that when they had time to watch me pitch, they’d watch me pitch. They said that it gave them hope to go from the Atlantic League to the big leagues. I was happy that they told me that, it meant a lot.” – Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com
Revs Acquire Clemente, Sandel: Jeff Johnson is reporting that — anticipating playing the Somerset Patriots — the Revolution have signed the Somerset Patriots.
Well, George Sandel and Edgard Clemente anyway. Check out Jeff’s blog for more info.
Maryland Gets Bigger: The Southern Maryland Blue Crabs picked up two new players in trades with American Association League teams. The first is LHP Dan Smith from the Pensacola Pelicans for a player to be named. Smith reached Triple-A with the Atlanta Braves in 2007.
The other trade involved RHP Mike Gibbs, who comes from the Sioux City Explorers to complete an earlier trade. He played one season of Rookie Ball with the Colorado Rockies organization and had a 9.99 ERA in 22 games.
Ducks Deal Too: The Long Island Ducks have acquired INF Melvin Falu from the Can-Am League’s Broxton Rox. Falu, who has experience in the Atlantic League with the Pennsylvania Road Warriors and Newark Bears, played in the St. Louis Cardinals for two seasons. – Scott Stanchak