Castellanos looks forward to sharing infield with Miggy

Once blocked from bigs by idol, Tigers third baseman ready to make presence felt

Castellanos looks forward to sharing infield with Miggy

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Don't let the geographical difference fool you. Nick Castellanos was born and raised in South Florida, but he has Michigan roots.

His mother's family still has a presence in Michigan, where his grandfather, Leonard Beard, served as a Detroit firefighter for 25 years. He has family members who worked for Chrysler and General Motors. He spent summers as a kid along the lake shores of Michigan before baseball became a year-round pursuit. He has been known to go to a coney island, though he doesn't have a particular allegiance.

One of the few Michigan traditions he doesn't really know is Tigers Opening Day. He has only heard about that secondhand. He's about to find out.

"I've heard it's incredible," he said. "I know it's going to be a lot of fun. I'm going to do my best to just treat it like any other baseball game, try not to get my adrenaline too high. I'm just going to try to be relaxed. I know it's going to be a lot of fun, because I've been to some Opening Days -- Florida Marlin Opening Days, but that's probably nothing like Detroit."

This is what Castellanos dreamed about, a chance at a starting role on a Major League team. His family hoped it would be in Detroit.

He spent the last couple of years on the pursuit of it, but wondering how it could happen with two All-Star sluggers on the infield corners. Ironically, the star blocking his path to the big leagues as a third baseman was the player he grew up idolizing a decade ago in Florida.

Castellanos spent last season learning the outfield at Triple-A Toledo to try to give himself a path to the Majors. By year's end, the defensive move was the one piece left for him to figure out. His hitting was no longer a question.

With the offseason trade of Prince Fielder to Texas, the outlook on Castellanos flipped, and not just from an outfielder to a third baseman. Instead of fighting for playing time, he became the top candidate at third base once again. Instead of watching Miguel Cabrera from afar, he now had the inside track to be part of the same infield.

The more he's around Cabrera, the more the teammate status emerges.

"The awe factor was there pretty much when I was called up to a couple big league games my first Spring Training, when I was 19," Castellanos said. "But now, it's just you realize -- everybody's very good at what they do, but we're still people. We're still goofy. We still like different things. We're normal, you know, and people put us on this pedestal of professional athlete or Triple Crown winner, or Cy Young Award winner. And these guys are all, at the end of the day, they're all just normal dudes."

Castellanos had the chance to watch Cabrera work day in and day out as a teammate last September, when he was called up for his first taste of the big leagues. He hasn't had the chance to do the same quite yet, but it shouldn't take long.

"I think more it's going to be during a game situation," he said. "I haven't got to see him that much in spring because I've been in [Jose] Iglesias' [hitting] group, and Miguel's usually doing his own thing with his group. But game situation is where I'll key on him mostly, because that's where he impresses everybody."

Castellanos should, too, soon enough. And the Florida kid with the Michigan background will become a familiar face up north to more than just family members. The name should also become familiar, but it could take a little while to get right.

It's not Cas-tell-anos, no matter how much the spelling suggests it is.

"It's pretty simple, just the double L's are a Y," he said. "So, cast-ay-ah-nos."

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.