If Starlin Castro has mixed emotions about his return to Wrigley Field just six months after the Cubs won the World Series without him, nobody could blame him.
But he sounds excited about his return Friday, even eager to watch Yankees teammate Aroldis Chapman, who spent all of four months as a Cub, get a World Series ring from Theo Epstein in a pregame ceremony.
“I’m going to watch it, and I think I’m going to have fun doing it,” said Castro, whose .362 batting average ranks second in the American League as his AL East-leading Yankees open the three-game interleague series. “It’s fun to see this guy getting a ring, especially [good friend] Chapman, to get to be a part of that.”
If baseball and life were fair, the one getting the ring would be Castro, a three-time All-Star by 25, who at one point was considered a young cornerstone equal to Anthony Rizzo in the Cubs’ rebuilding process.
But after playing for five managers in six years as a Cub, working with seven hitting coaches in that span and getting sent to second base in the summer of 2015 to make room for rookie Addison Russell at short, Castro was traded to New York after that season to make room for the Cubs to sign Ben Zobrist.
Then, of course, the Cubs finally won the title Castro and Rizzo had talked about winning together.
“It’s a little bit tough,” Castro said of watching that epic postseason run to the historic Game 7 in Cleveland without being a part of it. “But at the same time, I feel happy for the city and happy for the team. Happening right when I left, it’s a little tough, but I’m still happy because the city and the team, they needed that.”
That’s the kind of high road Castro took throughout his Cubs career, whether responding to critics, dealing with management instability or dealing with constant efforts to tinker with his swing.
“He was a great teammate,” said manager Joe Maddon, who often praised Castro for the way he handled the move from shortstop to second base.
Castro became one of the Cubs’ best performers down the stretch in what turned into a breakthrough playoff season for the team.
“He never made an excuse, man,” Maddon said. “You’ve got to like everything about him.”
That 2015 season is what Castro treasures most about his time with the Cubs.
“That was my first time in the playoffs, and it was fun, playing in the wild-card game and winning, then beating the Cardinals,” Castro said. “We lost to the Mets. But I take that memory with me everywhere, especially because of how tough a lot of the tough times were before that.”
Castro, 27, is thinking these days about winning his own ring with the Yankees this year, the second baseman looking like an early favorite for a fourth All-Star selection. After a career-high 21 homers, he’s on pace for a few more this year and has a .945 OPS entering the weekend.
“I’ve been going good so far,” said Castro, who added he likes hitting at Yankee Stadium, likes the strong mix of veterans and young players on the Yankees’ roster and seems to especially like the stability. He has had the same manager and hitting coach in back-to-back years for the first time in his career.
“You work on the same approach and stay in the same routine each year,” he said. “It helps.”
But on Thursday, he had only one thing on his mind.
“I can’t wait for [Friday],” he said. “To be back at Wrigley, taking batting practice before the game, the fans.’’
What will the response be like?
“I don’t know. I just want to wait for that moment,” he said. “I want to see how the fans react the first time they announce my name.”
Follow me on Twitter @GDubCub.