THE ANGEL IBO CASTILLO INTERVIEW
“I feel God showed me that if I can’t be a baseball player, I can still be around this beautiful game.” ~ Angel Ibo Castillo
“Utley..plays the game hard. I mean, I like the way he runs out all the ground balls. Utley never gives up.” ~ Angel Ibo Castillo
Polanco was the Phillies starting 2B and 3B at various points
An important cog in the Philadelphia Phillies lineup for 7 of the 11 seasons between 2002-2012, Placido Polanco can nonetheless be considered the hard-luck player in the Phillies decade of winning excellence to open the 21st century.
His two stints as a starter with the ball club, first in the early part of the decade when he was mostly used as the starting 2nd baseman, and then at the end as the starting 3rd baseman, sandwiched the 2008 World Series victory, of which he was not a part.
But Polanco’s excellent play for the team in that long stretch cannot be overlooked. He brought steady professionalism, along with both winning play and a positive attitude. In the beginning, he helped the team realize it could compete with anyone. In the end,
he was a big part of a record-setting Phils season.
Placido Polanco‘s career began in the Saint Louis Cardinals organization at the tail end of the 20th century. Born and raised in Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, he was selected by the Cards in the 19th round of the 1994 amateur draft out of Miami-Dade College.
He began his pro career that summer playing shortstop with the Cardinals rookie league affiliate at age 18, and remained at short when assigned to A-level Peoria in 1995. Then in 1996, Polanco was moved over to 2nd base. He would play mostly that position in both ’96 at High-A and then again for the Cardinals AA-level affiliate at Arkansas in 1997.
Though he did swipe 19 bags in ’97, Polanco was a light-hitter known for his ability to make contact. He was also proving highly skilled with the glove, and he graded outstanding in overall baseball smarts. Many in the organization, as well as outside evaluators, were pegging him as a future utility infielder who would definitely reach the Major Leagues as the 90’s were drawing to a close.
He finally achieved the Big League dream with a call-up to the Cardinals in July of 1998. In his 2nd game, his first start, Polanco was installed as the leadoff hitter playing 2nd base in a game vs the Reds at Cinergy Field in Cincinnati. In the bottom of the first inning, Polanco lined a clean base hit to short rightfield off Reds’ lefty Brett Tomko for the first hit of his career.
Later in that 1998 season, in a game at Busch Stadium in Saint Louis vs the Florida Marlins, Polanco was given a start at shortstop by manager Tony LaRussa. With one-out in the bottom of the 2nd inning, Polanco drove a ball deep down the leftfield line against Rafael Medina for his first career homerun.
It was just a first taste of life in the Big Leagues for Polanco, who would split time from 1998-2000 between the Majors and AAA. Each year his time with the Cardinals increased, and finally by the end of August 2000 he was the regular starting 2nd baseman in Saint Louis as the Cards won the N.L. Central crown. He saw regular action that year during the team’s first post-season appearance in 13 years, a tough NLDS loss to Atlanta.
Over the course of that first full 2000 season, Polanco had been bounced around the infield from 2nd to short to 3rd. His versatility fully established, he was finally given a chance in 2001 to settle at a spot. He saw 103 games, 92 starts, at 2nd base that season, while also seeing a career-high 42 games at shortstop.
Saint Louis again reached the postseason, this time as a Wildcard, and again took the NLDS to a decisive game. But again, Polanco and the Cards fell short, losing in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks to the Arizona Diamondbacks. A pattern of postseason frustration was being established that would see a World Series crown always just beyond Polanco’s grasp.
In 2002, Polanco was moved over to 3rd base by the Cardinals as the regular starter, seeing 131 games at the position. But then just before the non-waiver trade deadline, on July 29th, a stunner. Polanco was included in a trade to the Philadelphia Phillies. The Phils were looking to move disgruntled 3rd baseman Scott Rolen, and found a match in Saint Louis.
Now beginning a new chapter of his career in Philadelphia, Polanco finished out the 2002 season with a Phils club that had come in 2nd place in the NL East, just 2 games back, during the 2001 season. The ’02 team struggled through a losing September to finish a disappointing 80-81. It would prove to be the team’s last losing season for a decade.
In 2003 the Phillies were closing Veteran’s Stadium, and wanted to open the new Citizens Bank Park on an upswing. The club brought in free agents Jim Thome, David Bell, and Dan Plesac to upgrade the overall roster. The team responded by battling into late September in a dogfight with Florida and Houston for the NL Wildcard spot. However, 6 straight losses in a season-closing 1-7 stretch dropped them out of playoff contention. They finished 10 games over .500, but finished 5 games behind the Florida Marlins.
Polanco was the regular 2nd baseman in both that final 2003 season at The Vet, and in the inaugural 2004 season at Citizens Bank Park. In ’04, the team again finished 10 games over .500, but they finished 10 behind the Atlanta Braves for the NL East crown and 6 games behind Houston for the Wildcard. They were obviously close, but not quite a championship contender.
That fall of 2004, Polanco became a free agent for the first time. In the end, liking his place with the team and the direction in which they seemed headed, he chose to sign a 5-year deal with the Phillies. His future was secure financially, and it appeared that he had a pivotal role on a team that looked to be a consistent contender into the future on the field as well.
His on-field production was also improving as he moved into his prime years and gained more consistent playing time. In 2003 he hit .289 with 14 homers and 14 steals, had 30 doubles, and scored 87 runs. In 2004, at age 28, he upped his average to .298 and his homers to 17.
2005 would be a near-miss for the Phillies playoff fortunes. The club won a couple more games, finishing 14 over the .500 mark, but still fell 2 games short of the Braves in the division. Perhaps more excruciating, they missed the Wildcard by just a single game. Polanco, however, was not around for the near-miss. That contract he signed did not have full no-trade protection.
On June 8th of 2005, the Phillies dealt Polanco away in an effort to bolster their pitching staff for the 2nd half. He was sent off to the Detroit Tigers in exchange for Ramon Martinez and Ugueth Urbina. The Phillies felt Polanco was expandable now that Chase Utley was ready to fully take over at 2nd base.
In the American League for the first time in his career, Polanco was also given a steady position for the first time. He would be the Tigers starting 2nd baseman for the next 4+ seasons. In the best portion of the prime of his career, from ages 29-33, Polanco hit a combined .311, and in 2006 he helped lead the Tigers to a Wildcard playoff berth.
In the 2006 playoffs, the Tigers would roll through the Yankees and A’s, winning 7 of 8 games to take the American League Pennant for the first time in 22 seasons. Polanco was integral. The Detroit 2nd baseman hit .413 in the ALDS vs the Yanks, and then .529 in the 4-game sweep of Oakland in the ALCS for which he was named the Most Valuable Player.
Moving on to the World Series for what would be the only time in his career, the Tigers were taking on his former team, the Saint Louis Cardinals. Polanco would also be squaring off with Rolen, the player for whom he was traded to Philly four years earlier. The two teams split the first two games in Detroit, and headed to St. Louis for the next 3 games.
The Tigers knew they needed to win just once in order to ensure at least a return trip to Detroit. It would never come. In Saint Louis, the Cardinals swept all three games to win the World Series. For his part, Polanco was almost non-existent. In his only Fall Classic he didn’t register a single hit, going 0-17 with a walk and a hit-by-pitch. Rolen was strong, hitting .421 with a homer and 5 runs scored in winning his lone career championship.
In 2007, Polanco would show that his previous postseason failures were not indicative of any erosion in his talent. At age 31, Polanco hit .341 with a .388 on-base percentage, he produced a career-high 67 rbi, scored 105 runs, reached 200 hits for the only time in his career, including a career-best 36 doubles. The result was his first-ever All-Star Game, as well as receiving the Silver Slugger and Gold Glove Awards.
In both 2007 and in 2009, the Tigers would finish 2nd in the A.L. Central Division but were unable to secure a playoff spot. Polanco continued to be solid, hitting .307 for a losing Detroit team in 2008, and then winning his 2nd Gold Glove while driving in a knew career-high 72 runs in 2009. Also in 2008, Polanco had become a naturalized U.S. citizen, taking his oath before a game right on the field at Comerica Park.
Following the 2009 season, the 5-year deal that he had originally signed with Philadelphia was now up, and he was again a free agent. The Tigers were ready to move on from their 2nd baseman, who would be turning 34-years old in 2010.
Meanwhile, back in Philly, the team had won the 2008 World Series and returned there in 2009. Their 3rd baseman, Pedro Feliz, was turning 35 years old in 2010 and had his contract expiring. Despite his not having played 3rd base since leaving Philly in 2005, the Phils approached Polanco about the possibility of moving back to the hot corner. Polanco jumped at a reunion.
Signing a 3-year deal to become the Phillies new 3rd baseman, the man who had become known as “Polly” set out to show that he could still produce at a high level. In his first season back in 2010, he played a strong 3rd base, and the Phillies reached the NLCS before losing in six games to San Francisco.
The following year of 2011, both the team and Polanco upped their games. The Phillies set a franchise record with 102 victories in rolling to their 5th consecutive National League East Division crown. Polanco made his 2nd All-Star team, his first in the National League, and would win the Gold Glove. In doing so, Placido Polanco became the first player to win a Gold Glove at two different positions.
With all of the 2011 success, the ending would prove disastrous for the team, and would signal the beginning of the end of Polanco’s time in Philly and his career as a whole. The Phils were edged out by his old Cardinals team in the NLDS thanks to a 1-0 loss in the decisive game. As in the 2006 World Series, Polanco again did not produce against them, going 2-19.
In 2012, Polanco and the Phillies suffered from injuries and began to fall apart. The team struggled to a .500 finish, missing the postseason for the first time since 2006. Polanco’s season would be ended by injury just as September began. But before it happened he had one more moment of glory. On May 14th he cracked a homerun off Houston Astros reliever David Carpenter for the 2,000th hit of this Major League career.
Granted free agency once again following that 2012 season, approaching age 37 and wanting to spend more time with his wife and two small children, Polanco considered retirement. He would only play if it could be near them, limiting him to the southeastern clubs. He signed eventually with the Miami Marlins, playing one final season as their 3rd baseman before finally retiring.
In a career that spanned parts of 16 seasons, Placido Polanco fashioned a .297 batting average in nearly 8,000 plate appearances spread across a little over 1,900 games. He appeared at 2nd base in more than 1,000 games and at 3rd in 751, as well as 122 at shortstop. He won the Gold Glove in both the AL and the NL, was an All-Star in both leagues, and had done both while with the Phillies.
Polly also proved to be very reliable. He finished with well over 500 plate appearances in every season for which he was given the opportunity during his prime years, 10 of the 11 seasons between ages 25-34. The lone exception was 2004 in Detroit when he barely missed at 495 thanks to a mid-August to mid-September injury.
A career near-.300 hitter who was a great defender. An All-Star caliber player who proved to be both versatile and dependable. A consummate professional who was well-liked and well-respected by both his peers and by fans. That is how Placido Polanco will be remembered by baseball fans in general, and Phillies fans in particular.
|Cardinals prospect Oscar Taveras, 22, killed in auto accident|
Francisco Taveras must have known from early on that his son Oscar, 2nd of his 8 children with wife Marisela, was going to be something special on a baseball diamond.
After all, Francisco had first-hand knowledge of what it took to make it in the game. He himself had been a prospect once, reaching the AAA level in the Milwaukee Brewers organization back in the 1980’s.
Francisco, who taught Oscar the game that he himself loved, and Marisela surely watched with pride as Oscar not only competed in baseball, but as he excelled at it. Over the last few years it became apparent to everyone that Oscar was not only likely to match, but would most certainly exceed his father’s accomplishments in the game.
That’s what every parent hopes for, of course. That our children will grow to make more of themselves than we have, to succeed and make their mark on the world. To enjoy success and happiness and achievement. At the age of 22, Oscar Taveras could say that he had all of those things. His parents had to be very proud indeed.
Oscar would indeed surpass his father’s achievements in the game. Signing for $145,000 with the Saint Louis Cardinals organization as a 16-year old in November of 2008, he quickly rose to become one of the top prospects in the game. Entering the 2014 season, Taveras was considered one of the consensus top 3 prospects in all of baseball.
Taveras finally got his call up to the big leagues this past May 30th at just age 21. The following day, in just his 2nd at-bat with the Cardinals, Taveras launched a homerun, announcing his presence with authority.
Still, as many youngsters, Taveras struggled in his first exposure to major league pitching. He was sent back down to the minors in the middle of the month, but was then recalled once again on June 30th, this time to stay. He played part-time for the rest of the season as the Cards won the N.L. Central Division crown, and was named to their postseason roster.
In Game 2 of the National League Championship Series against the San Francisco Giants, Taveras was called on by manager Mike Matheny to pinch-hit. It was an important situation, as the Cards trailed the Giants 1-0 in the series, and were down 3-2 in the bottom of the 7th here.
|Taveras and the Cardinals celebrate his game-tying NLCS homerun|
Oscar Taveras stepped to the plate in the rain against veteran pitcher Yusmeiro Petit, and delivered like a veteran. He crushed a game-tying homerun just inside the rightfield foul pole. The blast inspired the Cardinals to victory, tying the NLCS at a game apiece.
It would end up being the only game that Saint Louis would win, as the Giants took the NLCS 4-1. In total, Oscar received 7 at-bats in the postseason, all as a pinch-hitter, and went 3-7 with a pair of runs scored. He got to play right field briefly in the Game 5 finale of that NLCS. It was a disappointing end for the team, but appeared to be just the beginning of a promising career that would yield many more opportunities for playoff heroics from the now 22-year old.
And then, this weekend, unspeakable tragedy struck. Oscar Taveras and his girlfriend, 18-year old Edilia Jamali Arvelo, were killed in a car crash in his native Dominican Republic. His Cardinals-red Chevy Camaro somehow veered off wet roads as they were driving to his hometown of Puerto Plata. Those at the scene reported that the front end was heavily damaged.
It’s too soon to know exactly what caused the accident. Any speculation about their ages and the sports car vehicle would be irresponsible. What is definitely not speculative is the nature of the roads in the D.R., which are notoriously deficient. Another Dominican native, future Hall of Fame pitcher Pedro Martinez, stated this morning in response to the accident: “To all the authorities in my country: please, please do something about the highways.“
Outgoing Commissioner of Baseball Bud Selig spoke for everyone involved in the game in part of his statement following the announcement of the news: “Oscar, a young member of the baseball family, was full of promise and at the dawn of a wonderful career in our game, evident in his game-tying homerun against the Giants exactly two weeks ago.“
|Oscar Taveras and Edilia Arvelo|
Now, all we have left is the memory of another brief, bright shining star taken far too soon. Baseball is game. Those of us who love it understand that, but we sometimes take it too seriously. Every once in awhile, real life steps in like this and reminds of that fact.
Oscar Taveras got to enjoy life in Major League Baseball, which will, in the end, be only a dream never realized for many millions around the world who play and share that dream. The record books will show that he appeared in exactly 80 games with the Cardinals, hitting .239 with 3 homers, 22 rbi, and 18 runs scored. He played 62 games in right field, 3 in center field, and made the rest of his appearances as a pinch-hitter.
But those are only his major league numbers. In the minor leagues, where he was almost always at least a couple of years younger than the league average age for his level, Taveras excelled. He batted .320 and drove in 324 runs across parts of his age 17-22 seasons, and consistently showed that he was going to be one of the game’s best hitters in the years to come. Now that is all we have left, his dream, ended just as it was beginning.
Now families will grieve. Most importantly, the families of these young people taken far too soon. But also the larger family of baseball, of which we who love it are all a part. We grieve the loss of one of our own in Oscar Taveras. May God bless his family, friends, and teammates during this difficult team. And may God rest the souls of these youngsters in His loving embrace.
One week ago today on Tuesday, January 12th at 4:53pm local time, an earthquake measuring 7.0 on the Richter scale rumbled from 6 miles under the Caribbean island of Hispaniola not far from the capital city of Port-au-Prince in the nation of Haiti.
Widespread damage and massive death resulted almost immediately, and as the ensuing week has passed the death toll estimates have risen into the hundreds of thousands. It was the worst quake to strike at Haiti in over two centuries, and is going to prove to be one of the largest natural disasters in human history.
There is a story here that is being mostly buried under the literal rubble that is now the nation of Haiti. It is a story that most humanitarians would say is secondary at this stage to the human loss and suffering. They are correct on one level. Help is needed, massive amounts of help, and it is needed quickly.
But that story needs to be told as well, because it tells the story of a nation that was a complete mess even before the earthquake struck. It is a story of a nation run by criminal gangs and thugs with little or no national authority. It is a cautionary tale about allowing anarchy to take hold and destroy lives.
For those who are not aware of the basic facts, Haiti makes up the western end of the island of Hispaniola which it shares with it’s neighbor on the east side, the Dominican Republic. The island is approximately 700 miles southeast of Florida.
It was on December 5th, 1492 that Christopher Columbus landed in the ‘New World’ at Hispaniola and claimed the island for Spain. The island was already inhabited at that time by a native tribe known as the Taino. Over the next couple of hundred years the Spanish continued to develop the island, and also began importing African slaves.
In the late 17th century, French buccaneers began to settle the west side of the island which would later become Haiti, and pirates used Hispaniola regularly thereafter due to it’s strategic location in the Caribbean. Famed French pirate Jean Lafitte, who frequently operated off the southern United States, was born here in 1782. John Audubon, the famed French-American ornithologist for whom today’s nature society is named, was born in what is now Haiti in 1785.
The Spanish and French fought for control of the island, and in 1697 signed a treaty that gave the French control of the western end which they named Saint-Domingue. They brought in thousands of African slaves who made possible the French settlers wealth in the coffee, sugar and indigo industries.
In 1791 a revolution of sorts began to break out among the slaves, which was inspired itself by the French Revolution. The French tried to maintain control by abolishing slavery, and a former slave took over the reigns of governmental power for the first time.
Napoleon Bonaparte attempted to retake control and reinstitute slavery a few years later. These efforts proved not only fruitless but disastrous, as more than 50,000 French troops were lost in the efforts. On January 1st, 1804, the slaves formally declared independence and renamed their nation as Haiti, thus becoming the only nation ever born directly of a slave revolt.
In July of 1825, France again tried to reconquer the island. This time the Haitian government did not fare so well, and was forced to negotiate a peace that allowed it to retain its independence and name, but at the cost of financially reimbursing France for what it deemed were lost slave wage profits.
In the aftermath of this deal with France the Haitian government lost support and in 1843 was removed in a coup. This began a string of dozens of such governmental coups over the ensuing century and a half, leading right up to today.
In 2004, the latest coup removed President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and the United Nations has been trying to restore order ever since.
Haiti is a nation with a supposed political structure, but which in actuality was being run on a day-to-day practical level by gangs, some organized and some not, but all violent in nature. These gangs divert or hijack any material aid sent to the country by well-meaning humanitarian groups, with only the Brazilian-led U.N. mission keeping any semblance of order.
It was the mess of a nation called Haiti, a nation that really didn’t need any more trouble heaped upon it, that was devastated last week. But the real fact is that Haiti’s 10 million people were already living under intolerable, unmanageable circumstances long before the earthquake.
In the aftermath of the quake, the United States has been requested to come to the rescue and provide security for the massive undertaking that will be the rescue, relief, stabilization, and recovery operation that will be going on in the country over the coming months and years.
With a little luck and a lot of sustained American intervention, it is possible that what is reborn of Haiti can actually be better than what came before, and can provide the Haitian people with stability and an opportunity at having a real society that is free and safe for all it’s citizens, not just the elite few or the street-wise strongmen that were contributing to its ruin long before the earthquake.