Boyhood dreams becoming a reality for Castellanos
Tigers third baseman gets best of childhood idol Beckett for first big league homer
LOS ANGELES -- The year was 2003, and there were rumblings all summer long in South Florida.
Texan Josh Beckett was a 23-year-old flamethrower finding his niche in the Florida Marlins' rotation. Miguel Cabrera was a 20-year-old rookie from Venezuela, making an impact with his bat while dividing time between left field and third base for Florida manager Jack McKeon.
Those Marlins won 91 games, 10 fewer than the National League East champion Braves. Earning the NL Wild Card, the Fish knocked out the Giants in the NL Division Series in five games, rocked the Cubs in seven games in the NL Championship Series and topped off their remarkable run by humbling the Yankees in the World Series in six games.
Coming of age, Beckett subdued the Bronx Bombers, who had won four of the previous six titles, 2-0, in Game 6 at Yankee Stadium and won the World Series Most Valuable Player Award.
Cabrera had his coming-out party with four homers -- three in the NLCS -- and 12 RBIs in 17 postseason games. He homered off Roger Clemens in a pivotal Game 4 in the World Series, taken 4-3 by the Marlins in 12 innings.
Fifteen miles away from Pro Player Stadium, in Southwest Ranches on the edge of the Florida Everglades, Nick Castellanos was in the fourth grade, doing the things 11-year-old kids do. He was a baseball fan with baseball dreams, his family friendly with the family of former Marlins pitcher Alex Fernandez.
"I went to all the games that postseason, because Alex got us tickets," Castellanos said. "I saw Beckett blowing hitters away. That was a long time ago. I was just a kid watching those guys win the World Series."
The paths of Beckett and the kid who admired him intersected Wednesday night at Dodger Stadium in a most uncommon but memorable way. Castellanos, breaking in as the Tigers' new third baseman with the great Cabrera going over to first, unloaded his first Major League home run with his father, George, in the crowd.
The three-run blast off a first-pitch fastball by Beckett soared over the wall in dead center in the third inning of what became a wild 7-6 victory, enabling Detroit to split the Interleague series with the Dodgers when Victor Martinez crushed a game-deciding 10th-inning home run off closer Kenley Jansen.
"How are you ever going to forget your first big league home run, in Dodger Stadium, against a guy you used to idolize?" Castellanos said, his eyes alive in the wonder of it all. "The whole night is pretty awesome."
In his first at-bat against Beckett, leading off the second, Castellanos saw nothing but fastballs and struck out.
"I didn't take too many good swings at them," he said. "I was dead-red in that next at-bat, looking for something hard. I put a good swing on it."
Watching Beckett so many times in his youth gave him no advantage, Castellanos said.
"I wasn't scouting him in fourth grade," Castellanos said, grinning. "I've never met him, but getting my first home run against him is pretty unbelievable."
Beckett, at 33, is on the comeback trail, trying to claim a role in a loaded Dodgers rotation. He would have had a decent start if not for the one swing by Castellanos.
Through five games, Castellanos is hitting .353 while focusing on his defense and absorbing every slice of wisdom he can from veterans such as Cabrera, Martinez, Torii Hunter, Ian Kinsler, Alex Avila and a gold-plated pitching staff featuring Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and Anibal Sanchez.
Cabrera, at 30, is the lion king of baseball, the back-to-back American League Most Valuable Player Award winner, three-time batting champ and 2012 AL Triple Crown winner.
Verlander and Scherzer lead a rotation capable of taking the Tigers to a championship with support from a deep lineup. The big question now is the bullpen with the early struggles of closer Joe Nathan, who was unable to hold a three-run lead in the ninth inning.
"One hundred percent," Castellanos said, asked if he feels fortunate to be in such a star-studded cast. "I can't say enough about how awesome it is to have teammates like Torii, Justin, Miggy, Victor, Ian, Alex ... all these guys are great to me.
"Torii talks to me every day. He shows me the right way to do things, how to go about your business as a big leaguer. Torii stresses being a professional every day -- work hard, respect the game and your teammates. He's an awesome leader, vocally and by example."
Castellanos sees how the free-spirited Cabrera keeps everybody loose with his vibrant clubhouse presence.
"Miggy is a goof -- but he is a very smart goof," Castellanos said. "He knows exactly what he's doing at all times."
Castellanos used the 2012 All-Star Futures Game in Kansas City to give a national audience exposure to his hitting skills. He homered and produced two other hits, claiming the Futures Game MVP Award. Castellanos was hitting .405 at Class A Advanced Lakeland, moving up to Double-A Erie and then spending the 2013 season at Triple-A Toledo.
Detroit's supplemental first-round pick (No. 44 overall) in 2010 First-Year Player Draft, Castellanos has been on the fast track since leaving Archbishop McCarthy High School and signing at 18.
"He's always asking questions, paying attention, just like [Mike] Trout back when he was starting out," said Hunter, the Angels' former leader. "Trout's in a class of his own, but this kid is athletic and talented -- and he wants to be good. I think Nick's got a great future."