BY: ED COLE
GLENDALE, Ariz. – If it wasn’t for Welington Castillo’s family, he might not be with the Arizona Diamondbacks today.
“I’m not supposed to be here honestly,” Castillo said. “I was about to retire (from) baseball because I didn’t want to catch. It’s a long history, but my family is really proud of me, because I stepped in and (do) everything well because God had a plan in every issue in my life.”
Catcher wasn’t even Castillo’s natural position growing up in the Dominican Republic. He was an infielder in high school, and a pretty good one at that. Castillo played second base, shortstop and third base, but he was most effective at shortstop.
Castillo had a killer career going on in high school, except for one thing: He wasn’t tall enough or fast enough to continue to be an infielder in college and in the Major Leagues, if he was to make it that far.
All the height and speed talk really got to Castillo, and it really upset him.
“I just got frustrated because everybody said that to me, and I (said), ‘I don’t want to catch,’” Castillo said. “That, to me, was the last position to do and play, just play catcher. I just retired for four months because I was finished with my high school. I told myself, ‘Just finish high school, go to college and get your degree.’”
Castillo’s family wasn’t going to let him go out like that. They knew that he was passionate about playing baseball, and he loved it so much, and they weren’t about to let his dreams fade away, just because some people didn’t believe in him.
“My family just started talking about, ‘Hey, just go back to the field, you can do it, you can do it,’ and honestly, I did everything I (could) do to get fast, because I (didn’t) want to catch, and I loved to play,” Castillo said.
Castillo listened to the words of his loving family, and he went back out on the diamond, and went through one tryout for a catcher position, and he made it.
“I tell you, I don’t know how (I did it),” Castillo said. “The guy just told me, ‘Can you throw it to second (base)?’ and I said, ‘How do I do it? I don’t know how to do it.’ I made really good throws to second (base).”
Castillo remained hard-headed when it came to being a catcher. All the scouts that looked at him said he’d be very good behind the plate, but he told them he didn’t want to play catcher. They told him that, if he wanted to play Major League Baseball, his best shot would be as a catcher.
That’s when things became clearer for Castillo.
“I see now that the windows start opening,” Castillo said. “I start doing it, and I did three more tryouts, and I don’t even know how to catch. I don’t even know how to catch a ball or whatever or blocking. I put my gear (on) backwards.”
It took Castillo a while, but he eventually had to have a one-on-one with himself, swallow his pride, and understand that this catcher thing was probably his last shot to make it to the Majors.
“I just (said), ‘Stop Welington, you need to try your best, because this opportunity that God gave you, you need to go hard, and you need to give it all you got,’” Castillo said. “That’s when I changed my mind, and forgot all about (being an) infielder.”
“Now I’m here, God blessed me, and I’m a Major League catcher,” Castillo said. “I appreciate this organization (Diamondbacks) to give me the opportunity, and believe in me that I can play every day and I can do this job. I’m gonna keep doing what I’m doing every day, just trying to get better and (I’m) going to go out and give 100-percent every day, and do what I did last year, and with the same confidence and keep it simple.”
Castillo had quite a partial season for Arizona after he came over in June, in the six-player trade with the Mariners. In 80 games and 274 at-bats, Castillo batted .255 with 17 home runs and 50 RBI.
Castillo’s slated to be the starting catcher come Opening Day, which is a great honor for him. He feels he’ll be even more impactful for Arizona this season, especially with him being with the team through all of Spring Training and an entire season.
“It’s gonna be easier, because I spent a couple months last year with my teammates, but it was a little hard to know them, because (I’ve) never played with them. It’s gonna take a little bit of time,” Castillo said. “I’m a guy that I like to get close to anybody, and treat them the right way, and help them when they need help, and tell them the truth when they need to hear the truth.”
“That trust, everything will come with time,” Castillo said. “The more time that we spend together, and we play together, I think that’s the key.”