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Castellanos 'coming home' to Tigers

Castellanos 'coming home' to Tigers

CHICAGO -- Nick Castellanos was born and raised in South Florida. He has never stepped inside Comerica Park. He doesn't know many Tigers other than Miguel Cabrera and former Tigers pitcher Dontrelle Willis, who used to play for his beloved Florida Marlins before coming over in that famous trade 2 1/2 years ago.

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Yet, as the Tigers called his name in the First-Year Player Draft, he was about as close to a hometown pick as the team could have found with its top selection. The screams and cries out of his Fort Lauderdale home from so many members of his family, Michigan born and raised, said it.

"My sister, Christine, is here," his mother, Michelle Castellanos, recalled Tuesday afternoon. "After they announced Nick's name, everybody's crying. They can't believe it. She jumps up and says, 'Oh my god, Nicholas is coming home!'"

Among all the teams that scouted him and pondered selecting the highly-touted high school infielder, Nick Castellanos went to Detroit with the No. 44 overall pick. And Detroit received quite an incredible young man.

Michelle and Jorge Castellanos were at Wrigley Field last summer to see their son hit four doubles and win MVP honors at the Under Armour All-American Game, after he already had won the home run derby. They were there in Venezuela to see their son receive a gold medal for Team USA in the Pan American under-18 championships over Cuba, the country Jorge and Nick's grandmother had to flee years ago. They watched their son help win a state championship for Archbishop McCarthy High School last month.

To see her son drafted by the Tigers, the team she watched win the World Series in 1984, was another special moment, one the whole family could share.

"It's a little odd how things come full circle for all of us," she said. "I kind of feel like it's a dream, not reality. Yeah, it's amazing. My entire family's there. We're all adamant Tigers fans."

Moreover, on her side, they're all Detroiters. Nick's grandfather, Leonard Beard, worked as a Detroit firefighter for 25 years before retiring. Nick's three aunts all live in Michigan, and grew up with his mother in the city. His step-grandfather, Dave Hope, worked for Chrysler for 30 years before retiring, and another family member works for General Motors.

"As much as we're excited to take him, I think the family is just as excited," Tigers scouting director David Chadd said Monday night.

And they were all going crazy at the possibility of Nick becoming a Tiger.

"It was just great all around," Nick Castellanos said. "I mean, everybody was freaking out, tears, smiles, screams, everything."

Some have lived there all their lives in places from Detroit to Rochester Hills, Royal Oak, Grosse Pointe and Ortonville. Others moved away and came back. Nick's mom is now the lone member of her family not living in the area, but Detroit was a regular part of his upbringing. They would visit every summer during vacation along the Lakes, a family tradition, and his most recent experience with Michigan winter came over the holidays last year.

"I don't really know about it probably as well as you guys do, but I know what it's like," Nick Castellanos said. "We've gone camping there since I was five. I've swam in the Great Lakes before. I've been in the city."

Those family ties meant he had to follow the Tigers growing up. He was a Cabrera fan well before he came to Detroit, and he admires Justin Verlander. If he needs any history lesson on the Tigers, he certainly won't have far to go.

Mrs. Castellanos couldn't have imagined that her son would one day have a chance to join the organization. But Nick has proven over time that he was serious when he told his mom at a young age that he wanted to be a Major League player.

Though his parents passed down the athleticism, Nick also inherited a work ethic that would make a Midwesterner proud. He would come home from practice in Little League or whatever level and take his swing into the garage. He would pass up going out with his friends to stay home, his mom remembers, and rest up for a game or batting practice the next morning. It runs in the family, what with a younger brother and sister who play baseball and softball.

"He grew up from the day I can remember saying, 'I'm going to play professional baseball,'" his mom recalls. "And you know you're a parent saying, 'OK, OK.' And he would be in the field for practice and he would come home in the garage and hit another 100 balls into a net."

He doesn't just love to play, he loves to win, and he has done plenty of it. He was part of a national high school championship team at nearby American Heritage School before transferring to Archbishop McCarthy, where its state championship this spring was the first such title for the school in any sport. He has a combination of state, national and international success that few can match at any age, let alone at 18.

"He had the talent," Archbishop McCarthy athletic director and former baseball coach Tony Massaro said. "He had the skill. God blesses you with so much skill. But the approach part, the mental part, I think he developed, where one bad pitch did not affect him at the plate. One bad at-bat did not affect him the next at-bat, One talk didn't affect him because they weren't going to pitch to him here.

"He's very mature with the approach. He has a purpose up there. He knows what he needs to look for. But that adds to the talent."

One of the young Castellanos' biggest challenges is that he was admittedly almost too driven to ride the ups and downs of baseball at the elite level. He had the drive to be one of the best, but had to learn that even the best don't get the better of the at-bats all the time.

"I guess it's just realizing that taking your at-bats for what they are instead of getting frustrated," he said. "Things in baseball aren't going to go your way all the time. Cabrera is one of the best players in baseball and he has 0-for-4 days. He also has 4-for-4 days."

In some ways, the maturity sounds like another Archbishop McCarthy product whom Massaro coached a few years back. Tigers catcher Alex Avila became the first graduate to reach the Majors when the Tigers called him up last year.

Eventually, the summer showcases and the traveling teams cut down on the summer vacations and the trips back to Michigan. But they opened up an entirely new chapter for the Castellanos, who have watched their son fulfill so many his own dreams and go well beyond theirs.

Those tears came anew last fall in Venezuela. Jorge Castellanos was born in Cuba, but left as a young child with his siblings and mother. His father was finally able to join them a few years later, learned English and made a life for his family in the United States.

It has already been an incredible experience for the Castellanos. Whether he decides to go pro or to go college -- the deadline for clubs to sign Draft picks is Aug. 16 -- it's going to continue. He grew up wanting to get to the big leagues, but he also grew up a University of Miami fan, and he has a chance to play there if he chooses to go to school.

The family is going to let him make his own choice, with his father serving as an adviser. Still, considering they had no idea the Tigers were interested, even the possibility is a shock.

"It was surreal," Michelle Castellanos said. "The whole year has been surreal. And then to watch him in a Team USA uniform was surreal.

"It's like a nice fit. It's like a perfect fit."

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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{"content":["first-year_player_draft" ] }