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Underappreciated Starlin Castro overshadowed by Anthony Rizzo

Cubs batter StarlCastro reacts after striking out end ninth inning Chicago Cubs 4-3 11-inning wover Los Angeles Dodgers Sunday May

Cubs batter Starlin Castro reacts after striking out to end the ninth inning of the Chicago Cubs 4-3 11-inning win over the Los Angeles Dodgers Sunday May 6, 2012 at Wrigley Field. | TOM CRUZE~Chicago-Sun-Times

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2010 125 463 53 139 3 41 10 29 71 .300 .347 .408 27

2011 158 674 91 207 10 66 22 35 96 .307 .341 .432 29

2012 85 344 41 100 7 43 16 12 61 .291 .314 .422 13

Totals 368 1,481 185 446 20 150 48 76 228 .301 .337 .422 69

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Updated: August 11, 2012 6:24AM

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Somewhere among the mob of cameras, microphones and recorders was the latest phenom.

At least that’s what the poster above the table read: Bryce Harper. Big, bold letters.

It was tough to get near the Washington Nationals’ 19-year-old outfielder, let alone ask him a question during the National League’s All-Star media session Monday afternoon, but you had to trust he was there.

After working through the Harper traffic, you had to go past four tables, make a left at Cole Hamels, then pass three more tables to catch another phenom.

Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro, 22, the two-time All-Star, was surrounded by two members of the media at his table, and one of them was there just to take a picture with him.

This is your life, Starlin Castro. Now the question is, what are you going to do about it?

“It’s been tough,’’ Castro said about the last 10 months on and off the field. “The team is struggling, and I’ve wanted to be the face. Make things right because the team has struggled so far this season. I want to try and play hard every time so I can prove to my team that I am in front. We need somebody.’’

And Castro seems more than genuine in volunteering to be that somebody.

It just doesn’t seem like the feeling is mutual.

Castro was the golden boy at this time last season, making his first All-Star Game at 21, but a lot has happened since then. Very little of it good.

There was the incident last August, when Castro had his back to the plate during a James Russell pitch, seemingly drifting off into Starlin Land rather than caring about the game.

But that paled in comparison to the offseason drama when Castro was accused of sexual assault, questioned by police and didn’t have his name cleared until late April, when prosecutors declined to charge him.

The Cubs said they had Castro’s back throughout, but it seemed to be with a 10-foot pole rather than a supporting hug.

And now there’s a new golden boy in Cubbie blue: Anthony Rizzo. The only reason he hasn’t walked on water yet is because there wasn’t a lake between Iowa and Chicago when he was called up on June 26. And walking on cornfields wasn’t going to impress the masses.

Forget the fact that Castro has done more at his age than Rizzo could fathom. Forget the fact that Castro’s rookie season at 20 could be better than what Harper produces this year when it’s all said and done.

Perception is reality, and, in this case, it’s almost as if the Cubs and their fans are taking Castro for granted.

“It’s nice,’’ Castro said when asked about Rizzomania keeping the media away from him on a day-to-day basis. “I don’t want to be the one with all the attention, you know? The team is 25 men, not one man. I want to be a good teammate.’’

But Castro also wants to be a leader, and as crazy as it sounds, he has shown a maturity the last month that the Cubs might sorely need as they move forward under Project Theo.

“I can do that,’’ Castro said when asked if he could be a team leader. “I have a little more experience. Last year was my first full year, and getting that experience was nice.

‘‘Talking with veteran guys, I know how to play the game a little more at this level.’’

Coincidentally, Castro’s maturity boom came in the aftermath of a June 1 road game against the San Francisco Giants in which he forgot how many outs there were and received a warning shot on a possible benching from manager Dale Sveum.

Youth would downplay the incident by now. A maturing person embraces the life lesson.

“Yeah, there’s no excuse for that,’’ Castro said hours before the Home Run Derby. “That’s why I said I apologized to my teammates because something like that is not supposed to happen.

‘‘I play too hard, work too hard. That’s not supposed to happen in a game.’’

Sources have indicated that Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have no intention of trading Castro and consider him a piece of the core moving forward.

As it stands now, he is the piece. He had 207 hits last season and has 100 already this season, and his power numbers are improving. Plus, he’s a shortstop.

His teammates should be falling all over themselves to praise him, but instead he has to hear comments such as this one Sunday from Ryan Dempster when asked about Castro’s improvement: “Obviously, he’s not turning around and looking in the outfield when pitches are going this year. That’s always a good step.”

Dempster said he was joking.

The problem is the punch line isn’t that amusing, especially coming from a player who has one playoff start since 1998 and lost it.

The North Side might want to start embracing Castro.

He’s an All-Star.

Just in case that’s forgotten, there’s a picture of him and some member of the media floating around as a reminder. Both of them standing in front of an empty table.

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