This week in baseball:All-Star Struck

Andy Zides

I had never witnessed a greater juxtaposition in baseball.
On highlight films I’ve seen Luke Appling hit a home run during the old timers game at Comiskey Park on the 50th anniversary of the first All-Star Game in which he played.
I’ve seen footage of Casey Stengel managing the Mets in the home team dugout at the Polo Grounds where his former manager, John McGraw, once held court.
But how could these contrasting, yet oddly linked moments, ever compare to something I personally was a part of? My juxtaposition for the ages was when I introduced Luis Castillo to Warren Spahn.
The scene was the runway at the center entrance to Doubleday Field during the annual Hall of Fame Game. The two teams that played in the exhibition in the summer of 2001 were the Brewers and the Marlins.
All day in the 95 degree heat, Brewers and Marlins star players were exiting the field right passed me and headed to their team’s large bus waiting in the crowded parking lot. So many of the star players eventually left the game, that by the third inning it resembled a minor league intersquad game during spring training.
I enjoyed myself as much as any rabid baseball fan, watching the Major Leaguers and Hall of Famers filter passed me onto and off the field. Already that day I had shook hands with Bob Feller, given Kirby Puckett a bottle of water and held open the gated entrance to the field underneath the grandstand for Dave Winfield, Bill Mazeroski, Rod Carew, Tony Perez, Duke Snider, Warren Spahn and every member of the Brewers and Marlins.
Luis Castillo, the Marlins speedy second baseman who had stolen 62 bases and hit .334 the summer before, was one of the last Major League starters to leave the game. There was a large cooler with bottles of water next to me and Castillo, who doesn’t speak English, motioned if he could have one. I gave him the water and he leaned against the wall next to me, enjoying the shade underneath the grandstand for a minute.
Warren Spahn, dressed in a gray suit and seemingly unaffected by the heat, was standing about five yards to our left, at the front entrance to Doubleday. I remember being surprised at first because Spahn was actually in a public area, yet nobody seemed to recognize him. He looked very old, very pale, and was completely unassuming, just standing there like he was waiting for somebody. So I grabbed a bottle of water and approached the winningest left-handed pitcher in baseball history as if he were my grandfather, and asked if he wanted it. At first, Spahn didn’t appear to have heard what I said.
Suddenly I felt hands on my shoulder and I turned around before I could give Spahn the water, and it was Castillo. Again, he didn’t speak English, but he understood somehow that the man I was talking to was a famous baseball figure. He motioned his head at Spahn and gave a curious look, never saying a word.
It was obvious, though, that Castillo wanted to know who this famous baseball man was. I told him in my best possible Spanish, “Warren Spahn, pitcher, pitcher (and I pretended to throw a ball), pitcher izquierda mano con mas victorias todos las dias.” I think that in English, it means something like, “Warren Spahn, pitcher left-hand with most victories of all the days.”
Castillo again said nothing and he looked confused. He then touched his hand to my chest and pointed at Spahn and motioned for me to bring him over to meet the famous old baseball man. I guess because Castillo had seen me talking to Spahn ever so briefly, he thought we must know each other.
So I walked a few feet back over to Spahn and said, “Mr. Spahn, this is Luis Castillo, he wanted to meet you.” The two shook hands.
Castillo trotted off after shaking his hand and seemed kind of embarrassed and in a hurry. He never looked back to thank me or anything, he just took off. But as he left, taking off in front of Spahn, I was left with an image of the old man that I will never forget.
Spahn’s old wrinkled face had the biggest smile you had ever seen, and he looked back at me and slightly nodded, still smiling.
I then walked back to Spahn and was going to tell him again that it was Luis Castillo and that he stole 62 bases last summer. I still wasn’t sure if he had heard me because he was 80 years old.
But Spahn’s granddaughter had appeared the moment he nodded at me and it was then clear that he had been waiting for her to come out of the bathroom. And just like that, Spahn was now gone.
The whole Castillo-Spahn occurrence took place in about a one minute period of time. I remember thinking how lucky I was to be in that situation at the right time and how it was funny that both Castillo and Spahn thought I knew the other man.
Most of all, I remember thinking how I had made Spahn and his 363 life time wins happy for a brief moment. I had connected vastly different generations of baseball players.
Spahn, whose rookie year was 1942, five years before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier, and Castillo, the dark skinned Dominican born speedster who didn’t speak a word of English, were linked forever under baseball.