Throw It Like a Ballplayer

providing baseball commentary and ponderings since April 2010

…and introducing Starlin Castro as Luke Brower

Posted by dannmckeegan on May 11, 2010

Growing Pains

Kirk Cameron and Starlin Castro, a dangerous pairing: both are likely to cause even their respective faithful some trouble along the way

That’s a Growing Pains reference, Growing Pains being a sitcom that ran from 1985 to 1992.  So it was wrapping up when Castro was in diapers.  Luke Brower was a character that showed up in about two dozen episodes in the series’ final two years.  He wasn’t an Oliver, to reference the Brady Bunch in the Growing Pains reference.  Anyhow, after Starlin Castro’s 3-error performance in his Wrigley Field debut on Monday night, there is now a well-defined sense of perspective from which expectations for the 20-year-old shortstop might be judged, and it does have something to do with a character played by an 18-year-old actor named Leonardo DiCaprio.

Starlin Castro takes a .286/.375/.714, a 6-RBI debut, his first intentional walk, and a 4 pitches-per-plate appearance average out of his first four games as a big-leaguer.  It’s not too shabby for the first player in MLB who was born in the 1990s.  On the other hand, he committed 3 errors in one game, giving him 4 in four games along with what looks to be either a weak or lazy throwing arm.

Baseball Trig

As you can clearly see in this graph, the move from his callup, when perspective was a cloudy, to a peak value occurred in one game. The peak proceeded to a trough in three more games. With prospects, whose sample data is too small to analyze statistically, it is worthwhile to look at the peaks and troughs of performance, which typically correlate to the peaks and troughs of public reception. We would expect another peak around game seven, creating the predicted 6-game period as defined on the graph. Because the y-axis is based on myriad aspects of the game, both quantitative and qualitative, it is necessary to use an a-numeric value system.

We have a peak and a trough: our amplitude is defined, and apparently so is our period.  So now we, as fans, as well as the Cubs organization needs to stay locked in looking for sines of growth.  Not to go off on a tangent or anything.

All of this comes down to growing pains.  There’s a reason shortstops don’t come up young.  Playing that position at the highest level takes a lot of time to develop.  But occasionally there are those breakout youths who shine blindingly bright much earlier than can be expected.  These are often a surprise coming out of nowhere, the initial response to the exposure being seen as flashes in the pan, baseball’s equivalents to fads.

Doesn’t that sound a little bit like a teen heartthrob/idol trying to break through those binds?  And it’s true: many of those early flashes do disappear quickly.  But every so often, the rare talent breaks through in an innocuous way and…breaks through.  DiCaprio had a dozen episodes of Parenthood and his stint on Growing Pains under his belt.  The next four projects he got? This Boy’s Life; What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?; The Quick and the Dead; The Basketball Diaries.

Basically, DiCaprio showed what he had in limited exposure as a sitcom kid, and then he took opportunities.  It isn’t about being given the opportunity to shine.  Rather, he took those next roles.  He took the roles he played.  He earned them and kept proving himself.  To become the respected actor he is now, twenty years after his first credited acting roles, he had to start somewhere.  And his “somewhere” was making the leap from complementary sitcom character to the big screen.  He never looked back.

That’s the position in which Starlin Castro finds himself.  He just got cast on Growing Pains.  The next few months are the ones where he takes the lines they give him and nail them.  The offense – that’s what brought him to the dance.  He has to hit, he has to walk, he has to show that he can be patient and that he can adjust.  His defense – that’s the challenge.  He’s playing in stadiums with two levels and light towers and thousands of people in the live studio audience.  His character – featured rookie trying not to show up or disappoint a crew of veterans putting trust in them – is evolving faster than any role he’s ever dreamed about playing.

It’s clear that Castro isn’t going to pick up anything for his offense working in the community theaters of the Pacific Coast League or Southern League.  He’ll need to do some extra monologue work with Alan Trammell before games.  He needs to be focused.  This is the big stage, the big screen.  But this goes live, and there are no cuts.  Every bad throw, lackadaisical chase, and half-hearted pick reflect poorly on him and the team, even though these are lessons his peers would be learning in the minors for another 2 or 3 years.

Growing Pains is Starlin Castro’s home for the foreseeable future.  Just as Aramis Ramirez was an adventure for his first few years at third base, and just as there have always been notorious butchers in the field for this and other teams, this is also something the fans and the team will have to live through.  Whether it clears up exponentially or gradually or by fits and starts, this kid is a major league player.  It’s painfully obvious.  On a team that’s probably not going anywhere if the aging vets don’t start hitting in the next week or two, his failures and successes will be equally magnified.  This pressure, as much as anything else, might be a determining factor in his development.

And that brings us back to that New Star idea, doesn’t it?  Let’s hope he takes to it for the best.


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