Nick Castellanos is standing in the on-deck circle at Citizens Bank Park, taking a couple practice swings before his latest at-bat against the latest pitcher to throw 100 mph.
A boy scurries down the steps behind home plate. He approaches Castellanos.
Castellanos sees him. He lights up and leans in.
They start talking.
Castellanos takes a couple more practice swings, fist bumps the boy through the netting and walks to home plate to hit. It is a cool moment, but it is even cooler when you realize it is a father-son moment. Castellanos is talking with eight-year-old son Liam, who is becoming a fixture at the ballpark, whether he is shagging fly balls before the game, chatting with dad during the game or playing ping pong in the clubhouse after a victory with Kyle Schwarber, Bryson Stott or other Phillies players.
“He tells me to hit it over the fence every time,” Castellanos said, smiling.
Is that a good thing to hear before he tries to hit Yu Darvish, Josh Hader, etc.?
“It is a good thing because I have to swing hard to be able to do that,” Castellanos said.
What cool memories Castellanos is creating with his son. (In a few years, he can reexperience these moments with newborn son, Otto.)
Aaron Boone and Bret Boone have memories like that. So do Ruben Amaro Jr. and Daulton Varsho. Their fathers -- Bob Boone, Ruben Amaro Sr. and Gary Varsho -- played and/or coached for the Phillies. The Boone boys spent so much time with their dad at Veterans Stadium that Aaron developed an impeccable Dan Baker impression.
Liam Castellanos might not develop a Baker impression, like the Yankees’ manager, but he will have great stories to tell about playing catch in the outfield with dad and hanging out in the clubhouse with Bryce Harper, Rhys Hoskins and the rest of the Phillies.
And who knows? Maybe he will follow his father’s footsteps one day.
“I’d be lying if I said it didn’t cross my mind,” Castellanos said. “It doesn’t guarantee anything. But look at the greatest players in the game right now. You’ve got [Bo] Bichette, you’ve got Vladimir Guerrero [Jr.], you’ve got Fernando Tatis [Jr.]. You know? Bloodlines are a real thing.”
But even if Liam grows up to be something else, the ballpark is a tremendous place to spend time as a kid. Not only because it is fun, but because it is a great place to learn about life.
“It’s a cool environment,” Castellanos said. “He gets to meet a lot of adults, so he learns to talk to a lot of adults. He learns how to be put in his place if he touches other people’s stuff or whatever. It’s a place where there can be a lot of growth. I still want him to be a kid and have fun, but it’s learning the line of fun and being respectful of others. But I don’t want to turn him into a robot, you know?”
(We might have seen some of that growth on Thursday, when a fan caught a foul ball and gave it to Liam. He immediately looked to give the ball to another kid, which he did.)
So, does it help Castellanos to talk to Liam before he hits? Hitting in the big leagues could be considered a high-stress job. Hitting 98 mph sinkers is difficult enough, but it comes with immense pressures because baseball is a performance business.
Maybe a simple “Good luck, dad!” helps.
“It reminds me how unimportant whatever happens is,” Castellanos said. “It also reminds me of how important whatever happens is. Because if I do it, that’s amazing. It’s a memory for him. If I don’t, at the end of the day it’s a game.”