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Rookie Catcher Returns With A Bang After 10-Year Hiatus

Third-string catchers come and go but few ever make headlines.

At the ripe old age of 34, Wilkin Castillo is now an exception to that rule.

Wilkin Castillo, Miami’s latest hero, first came up in 2009. Credit: Topps

A switch-hitting backstop from the Dominican Republic, Castillo collected his first hit in more than 10 years Saturday to spark a 5-3 Miami win over slumping Philadelphia.

Maybe the long layoff did him some good.

While the Phillies lost their sixth straight and fell a season-high five-and-a-half games out of first place in the NL East, Castillo went in the opposite direction.

Filling in for the injured Jorge Alfaro, Castillo clobbered a two-out, two-run double in the seventh inning at Citizens Bank Park.

“It was indescribable,” Castillo said after the game with the help of an interpreter. “It’s a lot of effort playing winter ball in the Dominican League, the Mexican League, the minor leagues for 10 years. So just being up here and see things happening, I thank God, and I thank the Marlins for giving me the opportunity to be here at the major league level.”

The June 22 game was his first since June 20, 2009, when his shoulder blew out while he pinch-hit a single at Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati. Medical tests revealed a torn right labrum.

The hit in Philadelphia Saturday was much more satisfying, not only because of the drought between big-league appearances but also because it put his team ahead. It was the climax of a three-run outburst.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Castillo is the only man in baseball history with an RBI streak spreading at least a decade.

He’s also the first man to extend a hitting streak over 10 years since Ray Schalk compiled a four-game streak from Sept. 17, 1932, to April 19, 1944.

Castillo’s streak stood at three entering play Sunday.

After his 1-for-4 performance in Citizens Bank Park Saturday, Castillo boosted his lifetime batting average to .308, with 12 hits in 39 at-bats. He’s scored six runs and knocked in four.

With the notable exception of fellow Dominican Julio Franco, whose career was resurrected after his rescue from the Mexican League, few players persevere so long in obscurity.

Castillo’s minor-league odyssey, like Franco’s, includes several countries and more cities than a Southwest Airlines flight schedule. The list includes Dominican and

Backstop is back: out of the majors more than 10 years, he had a big hit Saturday in Philadelphia
Credit: Miami Marlins

Mexican leagues and such independent teams as the Long Island Ducks, not to mention minor-league affiliates of eight different organizations.

His shoulder obviously healed, he showed a strong arm in the minor leagues, even making a handful of pitching appearances when his team needed him.

Castillo admitted afterward it felt strange to step foot on a major-league field again after 3,654 days.

“Once I squatted behind home plate, I felt weird,” he told reporters. “It was something out-of-body, just being there and the whole scenario. But once we got the first batter, I started feeling more comfortable and ready for everything.”

Castillo, who turns 35 before the end of the year, teamed with another rookie Latino to win the game for the Marlins. Jose Quijada, a Venezuelan lefthander most recently Castillo’s Triple-A teammate in New Orleans, earned his first save by inducing a bases-loaded pop-out.

“I’m really happy for Wilkin,” Miami manager Don Mattingly said in the happy clubhouse after the Saturday game. “There are a lot of guys out there who get a taste of the majors, then something happens and they try to fight their way back. It tells you a lot about guys when they hang in there.”

The only players still in the majors from Castillo’s first game are Jay Bruce, who played against him in Philadelphia Saturday, and Gordon Beckham, now with the Detroit Tigers. Bruce has played 1,399 games since.

“It’s been a lot of bus trips, a lot of spring trainings, and a lot of work,” Mattingly said of the backstop, who now ranks as the oldest rookie now active in the majors. “He’s just put in a ton of work to get back.”

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