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Starlin Castro can’t imagine starting career like Derek Jeter did

CHICAGO IL- JULY 30:   StarlCastro #13 Chicago Cubs reacts after striking out during ninth inning against Milwaukee Brewers

CHICAGO, IL- JULY 30: Starlin Castro #13 of the Chicago Cubs reacts after striking out during the ninth inning against the Milwaukee Brewers at Wrigley Field on July 30, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois. The Brewers defeated the Cubs 6-5. (Photo by Brian Kersey/Getty Images)

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Updated: June 23, 2014 2:26PM



Derek Jeter said he rarely thinks about the Cubs, who reside in another league, another time zone — another baseball dimension — from his reality.

So ask a stupid question about the Cubs’ title drought, and, well …

“Can I imagine it?” the Yankees legend said. “No.”

Starlin Castro, on the other hand, doesn’t have to imagine it. But the Cubs shortstop sometimes thinks about Jeter and the 27-time champions who open a two-game series Tuesday night at Wrigley Field.

So can Castro imagine winning four World Series in the first five years of his career, as Jeter did?

“No.”

Stupid question.

The Cubs and New York Yankees represent one of the biggest disparities in American sports. They’re two of the most iconic franchises in baseball, each the symbol of a polar opposite in the game’s history.

It’s underscored by the 100-year-old venue, in which the Yankees have clinched more World Series titles (one) than the Cubs.

But even as the Cubs sell the past this season — including the Yankees’ past in the form of a Babe Ruth “called shot” bobblehead last Friday — it’s all about the future for anyone still willing to pay for a ticket.

The future. Hope. Imagination. Pinstripe-like aspirations.

Maybe even a shortstop who once shared a Lakeview billboard with Jeter and who hopes to share a place in postseason conversations.

“The Yankees always have a great team. They’re awesome,” Castro said. “That’s the reason I’m here. I want to win. I want to win here.”

Like many young shortstops, Castro idolizes Jeter, a certain Hall of Famer who has announced he will retire after this season.

But idolizing and emulating look light years apart as Castro and the rebuilding Cubs slog through what could be a second 100-loss season in three years. In the meantime, they’ll get a chance to see a rare, and final, series at Wrigley Field for the Yankees’ captain, who’s trying to reach the playoffs for the 17th time.

“It’s good first-hand to see what a team that goes to the playoffs every year looks like and how they carry themselves,” Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said.

Especially for the handful of young Cubs who figure to be here when the team eventually turns the ignition again to try to ­compete.

But how much losing can a player — even one with All-Star talent — endure and still be prepared to win when it’s time? Would Jeter still be a champion and Hall of Famer if he’d been a Cub? Would Castro be as criticized and occasionally inattentive if he had been a Yankee?

Jeter has played in 38 World Series games. Castro has finished the day with a winning record only five times during a 648-game career — and never after April 8.

“The reality is he might get even better,” Hoyer said of ­Castro when the stakes get raised. “When you’re in a winning situation and every day counts, and every at-bat counts, that increased focus can bring out the best in players.”

It didn’t hurt the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Andrew McCutchen, who keyed his team’s run to the postseason last year. Or Johnny Damon, who spun his competitive wheels with the Kansas City Royals before helping the Boston Red Sox, and then the Yankees, win titles as soon as he got the chance.

“I don’t worry about that,” said Castro, who is having a strong rebound season this year and is confident he can help lead the Cubs into perennial contention once the front office’s plan comes together. “I feel I can be here my whole career. I want to make it happen here.”

Email: gwittenmyer@suntimes.com

Twitter: @GDubCub



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