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Starlin Castro gives Cubs, fans reason to be optimistic about future

Chicago Cubs' StarlCastro left Aramis Ramirez wait hit during batting practice before baseball game against Pittsburgh Pirates Pittsburgh Sunday July

Chicago Cubs' Starlin Castro, left, and Aramis Ramirez wait to hit during batting practice before a baseball game against the Pittsburgh Pirates in Pittsburgh Sunday, July 10, 2011. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

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Updated: July 11, 2011 2:10AM

PITTSBURGH — Cubs third-base coach Ivan DeJesus clicked the mouse with care, not wanting a single frame on the computer screen to go by unnoticed.

DeJesus was making sure his prized student was listening to every detail, every pointer being offered.

Shortstop Starlin Castro was doing just that, eating up DeJesus’ explanation of how he should attack second base on double-play balls while still using the bag to protect himself from runners bearing down on him. All the while, Castro was running a long strand of dental floss through his teeth.

‘‘I have to keep my teeth clean,’’ Castro, 21, said minutes later, flashing his pearly whites.

Ah, the face of the Cubs for years to come, clean teeth and all.

‘‘Oh, man, he’s huge,’’ Cubs manager Mike Quade said when asked about the importance of Castro to the franchise. ‘‘All that encompasses it — his age, his position, his ability, all the stuff you’re looking for.

‘‘And the power thing is the most interesting thing. If the power that people are projecting manifests
itself .  .  . now you really have something special. He’s pretty special as is right now.’’

That’s one way to describe the youngest Cubs player ever selected to an All-Star Game.

But Castro said people really haven’t seen anything yet.

‘‘Yeah, I work hard every day,’’ Castro said. ‘‘I want to keep learning; I want to get better. But I want to be the best.’’

When asked whether he meant the best he could be or the best player on the Cubs, Castro made sure nothing was lost in translation.

‘‘No, I want to be the best,’’ he said with an excited look in his eyes. ‘‘The best in all of baseball.’’

No wonder DeJesus was tutoring Castro on how to keep out of harm’s way. Franchise players don’t come around often.

Baseball pays more than fishing

Growing up in the coastal town of Monte Cristi on the northwest side of the Dominican Republic, Castro’s priorities were fishing and baseball — in that order. He gravitated to baseball, but not for the reasons most 9-year-olds in the United States begin playing the game.

‘‘Baseball is very important to us,’’ Castro said. ‘‘One reason I play baseball is because I wanted to help my family in the Dominican. Every kid in the Dominican that plays baseball thinks like that. It’s fun, and if you don’t like baseball, why even play? But also to help my family, too.’’

As it was for many kids from his country, a milk carton was his first glove when there weren’t enough leather ones to be shared. At age 13, he finally owned his own.

‘‘Some guy from America, I don’t remember his name,’’ Castro said. ‘‘But he came to play in the Dominican and came from the same city that I lived. After he was playing one day, he gave me the glove because he knew I didn’t have one.

‘‘I remember that day. You want something for your own to take out there.’’

That glove found a good home, and Castro was signed by the Cubs three years later.

Life in the minors was short for Castro. Called up from Class AA Tennessee last May, it was quickly apparent that Castro was special, especially with the bat. In 125 games, Castro hit .300 with 31 doubles and 41 RBI. This season, he’s hitting .307 with 24 doubles, eight triples and 39 RBI in the Cubs’ first 92 games.

What’s impressive about him, though, is that he hasn’t flinched. Not with talk of goats and curses, not with the Sports Illustrated cover in May and not since being selected to play in the All-Star Game on Tuesday in Phoenix.

Why? Because the real pressure was getting to this point.

‘‘I like all of this,’’ Castro said. ‘‘It’s not pressure. I’ve been through pressure.’’

‘Plenty .  .  . to look forward to’

Castro will be under a microscope today, when All-Stars from both leagues will meet with the media. He’s ready for the many questions headed his way, ready to tell his story to the nation, ready to let people know that Miguel Tejada was his role model growing up, that he played basketball and that he can dunk.

‘‘All of this has been on his plate at an early age, and he’s handled it remarkably well, so you would like to think that he’s a big, big part of the future,’’ Quade said. ‘‘And he will mature, get more comfortable, take on some leadership stuff that he hasn’t yet. There’s plenty of things to look forward to.’’

There is because we’ve only scratched the surface about what makes Castro tick off the field.

The Cubs are hoping they’ve only scratched the surface of how good he can be on it.

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