I was just a short, chubby kid when I first met Starlin Castro in person. I was walking with my girlfriend in a mall in Harwood Heights, Illinois when I passed a Lids store. I was wearing a throwback Cubs hat and jeans. It was a normal Tuesday afternoon in the middle of July. I glanced through the glass but a hat didn’t catch my eye, a tall, built, Dominican man did instead. I stopped in my tracks. My girlfriend was a few steps ahead of me when she finally noticed what I was staring at.
“Who is that?” She said, gesturing at the glass.
I opened my mouth to explain but nothing came out. I knew that was Starlin Castro but for some reason I couldn’t move. I was star struck. “That’s Starlin Castro. The shortstop for the Chicago Cubs.” I started to move toward the entrance.
What the hell? Why is Starlin Castro in the mall I always go to? Does he regularly shop here? Why is he in a Lids? Doesn’t he get all of his hats for free? My mind raced with questions. I stepped through the doorway of the Lids and three men in Cubs hats came wandering out.
“Is that Starlin Castro?” I asked, pointing at the tall man with his back turned to me.
“Yeah!” One of the men said. “And you’ve got the perfect hat, too!” They all laughed but I didn’t realize that I was wearing a Cubs hat. Why didn’t I realize that? I walked up to the cashier instead.
“Excuse me, do you have a piece of paper and a pen I could borrow for like two minutes?” She grabbed a blue pen and tore off a blank receipt from the cash register. I still didn’t realize I had a Cubs hat on. I walked up to Starlin who was talking with the woman he was with. He was huge. I didn’t expect that at all. He was well built and tall.
“Um,” I stumbled. Way to start off hot, Zack. “Starlin?” He looked up and saw me. “You think you could sign this for me?”
“Sure!” He said with a smile. He took the pen and receipt from me and looked around for a flat surface. He leaned over and put the receipt against the woman’s purse and scribbled his signature over it. He handed it back to me.
“Thanks, you’re the best!” I started to walk away.
“I like your hat.” I was still so star stuck that I didn’t realize I could have had him sign my hat. Damnit. I walked out of that Lids clutching that receipt with both hands, still unable to process what just happened.
I still have that signature pinned on my board at home and I cherish it because that was the first time I ever got to see my favorite Cub of all time out in public and not mobbed by a bunch of people.
Starlin Castro brought so much to the city of Chicago. For me, he was the one who started it all. He and Anthony Rizzo were the ones that began the reign of the Chicago Cubs. When I saw them playing for the Cubs I was in awe. Rizzo was inspiring with his joyful manner in which he played the game while Castro showed how hard you have to work to be a part of such an amazing game. Castro, in my book, will always be a Cub; he started everything that is now Chicago Cubs baseball and I would like to thank him for it.
Starlin recently wrote a thank you letter to Chicago on The Player’s Tribune that you can read here. It was an amazing tale about a young Dominican kid who was embraced by not only the Chicago Cubs, but by Chicago itself. It was a class act but a classy kid and I would like to take this time and thank Starlin for everything that he has done. He is an amazing ballplayer that brought so much talent and joy for the game to Chicago. He truly was the one to start it all. While he is gone now, he will forever be a Cub in my mind.
Thank you. Thank you for your swaggy double plays at second. Thank you for the record you broke the first day on the job. Thank you for smiling every game. Thank you for helping bring back winning baseball to Chicago.
So, thank you, Starlin.