Imagine this: It’s a warm afternoon in your hometown. You are 15 years old, a sophomore in high school. You pitch for the Junior Varsity team because the Varsity team is stacked. Your older brother, a senior, plays shortstop for the big team, and as a result of that and your age difference, the two of you haven’t played on the same diamond since tee-ball.
The big team needs a pitcher for today’s game, and they call on you to pitch. For the first time since you were little kids, you and your brother get to share a field. And it’s an incredible feeling — something you will look back on years later and remember fondly as one of your favorite memories.
Detroit Tigers pitching prospect Ryan Castellanos, younger brother of Tigers’ third baseman Nick Castellanos, agreed to an interview with me last week. One of my questions was what is your favorite baseball memory? He said it was the one time he got to play with Nick fielding behind him. He added that before his inning began, Nick called time out for a mound visit. Ryan shared this photo from the moment:
Talk about a photo that represents the epitome of the sport; that’s what baseball is all about.
Ryan’s adoration of Nick is apparent. In a game that’s so competitive, so much a business, it’s rare to see something as pure as the bond between the Castellanos brothers.
Growing up near Miami, Nick and Ryan were huge Marlins fans. Ryan was nine years old in 2003, when the then-Florida Marlins won the World Series for the second time. Ryan’s favorite players were Josh Beckett and Miguel Cabrera — Beckett is part of what originally motivated Ryan to be a pitcher. In an awe-inspiring, Hollywood-esque twist, Nick hit his first MLB home run off of Beckett before high-fiving Cabrera in the Tigers’ dugout afterward. Ryan described it as a “surreal and emotional moment for all of us.”
In nearly everything Ryan does, Nick is a part of it — if only in Ryan’s thought process. Ryan models his mindset after that of his brother.
Nick has taught me so much, both in life and in baseball. The most important thing he has taught me is that anything is achievable if you really set your mind to it. Since he was four years old Nick was telling everyone he was going to be a big-leaguer, and he meant it too. And it's kind of weird because when everything began to fall into place with him — his collegiate offers, his draft status, his minor league success — none of it came as a surprise to any of us, because we saw how determined he was. He has shown me what it truly takes to make it in this sport.
A pitcher from the start — sort of
While Ryan has always pitched, pitching wasn’t his focus until about halfway through his high school career. “I have always played baseball and I always enjoyed it, but after making the switch to pitching I began to see results, and success came much more easily for me.”
Not long after changing his focus, Ryan was offered a scholarship to play baseball at the University of Illinois. “That was confirmation to me that I have the talent and the makeup to possibly turn this passion into a career.”
First Castellanos to attend college
Like Nick, Ryan was drafted directly out of high school, in the 34th round of the 2012 MLB amateur draft by the Chicago White Sox. Ryan decided to decline the draft offer and attend the University of Illinois for a number of reasons. “The main reason was I personally felt I would benefit more as a person and as an athlete by growing another three or four years playing collegiate baseball. Getting an education was key too, plus learning some responsibility and taking care of myself while being away from home can never hurt either.”
Upon accepting the scholarship, Ryan became the first in his family to go to college — a fact that he’s obviously quite proud of.
While playing for the Fighting Illini, Ryan picked up invaluable advice from well-known pitching coach Drew Dickinson. Among the things Ryan learned was how to throw his changeup. “My changeup is my favorite off-speed pitch,” he said. “I would say Drew Dickinson helped me most in developing and trusting my changeup.”
Plans for now and for the future
Ryan has big goals for the upcoming season, and he admits that it’s difficult to not dream big when you’ve worked so hard to stay in shape during the offseason. “I will aim to stay within myself, understand my strengths and weaknesses as a player, hopefully use my mental game as an edge, and see where baseball can take me this year,” he said. “A strong mental game can be the difference between success or failure on any given day.”
Think back to that afternoon in your hometown for a moment. Playing with your brother — your hero, your role model. The two of you have come a long way.
Be sure to follow Ryan on twitter @ryan_cast_