August 22, 2011
Over the course of a season, I'm guessing it's an impossible task for any player outside of the battery to be 100 percent dialed in to every pitch of a 162-game season. The mind can wander, the mind can zone out, the mind can see something without seeing anything. It's human nature.
But for the love of pete, you'd like to think that your defenders would at least be facing the right way each time the pitcher winds up and throws a baseball. Check out Chicago Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro(notes) being nowhere close to an acceptable position during Sunday night's 6-2 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals.
Maybe this happens more often than I think, I'm not sure. But kudos to ESPN's "Sunday Night Baseball" crew for spotting what was an illuminating moment for a 21-year-old who leads the league with 21 errors this season. As good as the All-Star has been at the plate — his 164 hits leads the National League — Castro's defense has been cringe-inducing and capable of making us wonder on a daily basis where the Cubs will hide him in the future.
It was also enough to cause broadcaster Bobby Valentine to go on a seven-minute rant that eventually wandered into a criticism of how Castro eats his sunflower seeds. The diatribe was a little too long for my tastes — there aren't many 21-year-old phenoms who don't need any fine-tuning and using the word "cancer" was uncalled for — but there's little doubt that it will set the tone for the way people discuss Castro in the near future.
Cubs manager Mike Quade was even asked about it after the game:
"I can't watch everything," Quade told reporters. "I certainly try to. I'm managing a ballgame. I'll have to talk to my infield people about that, I don't know. The sunflower seed thing, guys stay loose with sunflower seeds or whatever."
Valentine's remarks were about more than just sunflower seeds, of course. And Quade is well aware of Castro's shortcomings on defense, having publicly taken the young shortstop to task for previous mental miscues a few times already this season.
A high-profile incident on national television will probably force Quade to comment further once he sees the tape. Valentine is also right in that the Cubs need to use this as a teaching moment for the cornerstone of their franchise.
But it's going to be tricky. Valentine's long-winded scolding has the potential for this episode to turn overwhelmingly negative and the Cubs have to be careful that Castro's defense — no pun intended — isn't to tune the criticism out as easily as he did that pitch on Sunday night.