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Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Interview Part 3: Jose Castro, On Top

Note: The Greatest 21 Days originally interviewed Jose Castro in 2014. The interview is being reposted and updated to include new photos of Castro taken at Turner Field in June 2016, with Castro serving as Braves assistant hitting coach.
Jose Castro, second from the right, in the Braves dugout at Turner Field in Atlanta in June 2016. (Greatest 21 Days)
Part 1: The Maximum | Part 2: Another Door
Part 3: On Top

Jose Castro returned for his second stint in the majors in 2014, this time with the Cubs. His job was as the team's quality assurance coach, a job that has several components.

There's a video component, helping with replay challenges. There's watching the opposing team, looking for their tendencies or pitchers tipping their offerings.

There was also the coaching component, helping out the club's hitting coaches in the batting cage or going over reports on opposing pitchers.

"It's not, I wouldn't say, hectic," Castro told The Greatest 21 Days in September 2014. "It's just a job that you have to be on top of your game to make the best of the team."

Castro has ended up on the top level of the baseball world for two seasons now, in the majors. He first made the bigs in mid-2008, as interim hitting coach for the Mariners. He then returned to the majors in 2014 in his role with the Cubs.

His major league time is at those two seasons and counting - in a professional playing and coaching career that has lasted nearly four decades. He's continued in 2015 and 2016 with the Braves as assistant major league hitting coach.

Castro spoke with The Greatest 21 Days by phone on an off day in early September 2014. He talked about his time growing up in Florida and learning the game after his family left Cuba.

He also talked about his time in the minors, his turn to coaching and, finally, his arrival and work in the majors.
Jose Castro, left, at the rail in the Braves dugout in June 2016. (Greatest 21 Days)
Castro started his coaching career in 1990. That was also his 14th and final season as a player.

He joined the Expos system that offseason and played 19 games at AAA Indianapolis before being offered the hitting coach job with the Expos' short-season entry in Jamestown, NY.

Castro recalled the transition from playing to coach as being a tough one, especially making that transition as quickly as he did.

"It's not easy because you have that player in you still," Castro said. "But it was fun. The coaches there were fun. They were hard workers."

It was a transition that Castro wanted to make. He was also ready to learn.

"If you want to do something real bad and you put everything into it,"Castro said, "then you learn a lot. You just keep learning and you never stop learning.

"Whenever there's something in baseball that's talked about, you listen and you learn, from everyone," Castro added.

Castro moved to single-A Rockford as hitting coach in 1991. By 1993, he was at single-A Kane County, following his coaching mentor John Boles to the Marlins system.
The Braves' Chase d'Arnaud at Turner Field in June 2016. Jose Castro works with Braves hitters as assisting hitting coach.
Over the next decade-plus, Castro served in various positions, including several minor league hitting coach slots. He served at AA Portland in 1994. In 1997, he was hitting coach at high-A Brevard County with Randy Hennis and manager Lorenzo Bundy.

He later moved to the Expos, Padres and Mariners systems, taking similar roles, helping players be the best hitters they can be.

"Hitting is the toughest thing to do in any sport," Castro said. "It's a combination of the mechanics of the swing and the mental approach to it."

There's also has to be an understanding from the hitter what his strength is in the strike zone.

"Make it as simple as you can and keep you as a hitter to your strength," Castro said. "Yeah, you'll have your good days and bad days, but, again, that's what it is. If you're failing 70 percent of the time as a hitter, you're still pretty good."

Castro moved to the Mariners in 2008 as the club's roving minor league hitting instructor. That's the role he served for the first three months, traveling around the Mariners system.

In June, he was at the Mariners' California League entry, the High Desert Mavericks when he got a call from Seattle's coordinator of minor league instruction Pedro Grifol.

Castro remembers the call clearly.
Jose Castro in the Braves dugout in June 2016. (Greatest 21 Days)
Grifol asked where Castro was going next. Castro responded that he was at the end of his schedule, so he was headed home.

"He said, 'Well, change that. Go to Seattle,'" Castro recalled.

Changes were underway. A short time after he arrived, Castro was offered and he accepted the Mariners' interim hitting coach position.

"I was there for three-and-a-half months, four months," Castro said. "It was a great experience working with these big league hitters."

He worked with Adrian Beltre, Raul Ibanez and others. Castro called Ibanez a complete professional. "If he's a good player, he's a better human being," Castro said of Ibanez.

Castro then returned to the minors with the Mariners and with the Royals. He served 2013 as the Royals minor league assistant hitting coordinator.

For 2014, he rejoined another manager he'd worked with. In 2007, Castro served as hitting coach at AAA Portland, Ore., under manager Rick Renteria. After Renteria accepted the manager's post with the Cubs, Castro became the club's quality assurance coach.

Castro recalled he and Renteria first worked together in the Marlins system. Renteria's first managerial job was in 1998 at Brevard County. Castro was his hitting coach.
Jose Castro in the majors greeting pitcher Hunter Cervenka in June 2016 as he returns to the dugout at Turner Field. (Greatest 21 Days)
"It's a wonderful thing to be back and to be back again under Ricky, whom I've known for many years now," Castro said.

Castro could be found during games in the club's video room with assistant hitting coach Mike Brumley. That's where they help with the replay challenges. The video room is also there for players in between at bats, checking on pitches thrown or on their swing.

"We're always on top of stuff," Castro said. "Whatever they need, we're there to facilitate."

There's also a lot of planning ahead and making sure information is available to the players, Castro said.

"Some guys want information, some don't want as much," Castro said. "But whatever information it is, we have. Whatever they want to take from it, they take."

He's since gone on to serve the Braves in 2015 and 2016 as assistant hitting coach. 

His 2014 season marked his 38th in the game, counting both his time as a player and his time as a coach.

He's spent that time in eight different organizations and in his share of cities and roles.

"The way I look at it," Castro said, "wherever you go - it doesn't matter where you're at - you want to make those players better and that organization better. That's the way I look at it."

Part 1: The Maximum | Part 2: Another Door
Part 3: On Top

Be sure and read Part 1: Jose Castro, The Maximum

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