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Journey of Mike Castron a bit of a diamond on the diamond in the rough
2021-12-18
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The summer of 1977 was something special for Mike Castron, just 16 years old yet suiting up in the Nickel Region Men's Senior Baseball League. Filled with talented players, the highly competitive baseball circuit was soaring in the Sudbury area. Castron, a boy among men at the time, found himself on a deep Sudbury Shamrocks roster.

While the Shamrocks boasted a wealth of gifted players, the team routinely faced stiff competition in the form of the powerhouse Coniston Red Sox and Copper Cliff Redmen. These were skilled athletes, featuring many professional hockey players returning home during the offseason. A self-described "little kid" on the roster, Castron entered an intimidating scene.

Mike Fox looked and played like Johnny Bench," Castron admitted over the phone, between recent business meetings, referring to Coniston’s brilliant catcher.

While Castron was severely undersized, he was not just warming the bench, but rather excelling, among the league leaders in many statistical categories. A quick and slick middle infielder with soft hands, he also got the job done at the plate, even switch-hitting successfully and boasting some power. Rookie of the Year honours seemed like a lock, which made it fun to daydream where this was all going.

Being a serious threat only two years into high school against salty grown men, Castron knew he had to keep going and pursue his passion after high-school. Completing four seasons with the Shamrocks locally, Castron was hungry and unerstood that he would have to venture out and move away from home to create opportunities.

He would hit the road, performing well at tryouts for all-star teams in different parts of Canada, mainly in Western Manitoba. It was there that his father bumped into an old big-league scout representing the Seattle Mariners. He got the bug in the family’s ear to look west to the state of Washington.

The tryouts were tough, and everything was a lot faster than on the fields back home. Yet in the fall of 1980, Castron found his spot as a walk-on at Yakima Valley Community College (Washington), which he admitted was a “big deal” back home.

Four years later, the program would feature star pitcher Todd Stottlemyre, a two-time Toronto Blue Jays' World Series winner.

In that first year, Castron quickly realized that he rose from relative obscurity; life had just gotten a lot harder. "The Northwest doesn't need middle infielders," he said. "Their team was picked with hotshots from San Diego or the Dominican, where guys played 150 games a year.”

Worried about impressing his father and not looking poorly in front of his brothers back in Northern Ontario, he openly pondered whether this move was really worth it, if he would even play. With his future uncertain, the loneliness and homesickness were beginning to take their toll on the greener-than-grass teenager.

Though memories and detailed stats are blurry, Castron survived the first season and contributed well with his college team. Wondering what to do next, he would find his way to the Grandview Lakers of the Manitoba Senior Baseball League. He's given $900 dollars a month to maintain the very same ballfield that he plays on and has never been happier.

Living in a small town for the summer, able to pay his bills and with a little spending money left over, envelopped Castron with that somewhat magical entry-level minor league feeling. Describing that wonderful summer of 1981, he asks: "have you ever seen ‘Bull Durham’? My wife and I just watched that movie the other day."

In a really good place, Castron opts to head back to Yakima for his second and final junior college season.

Adding a few pounds of muscle to go along with a season of experience and a good summer league showing on his résumé, his sophomore season is far more productive than his first. While having some options to potentially continue at a four-year American university, Castron returns to Sudbury in the spring of 1982, unsure of what lies ahead.

Realizing his love of baseball isn't taking him to the big leagues - a reality for the overwhelming majority of young men who pursue this path - but having always prided himself on achieving good grades, he completes his degree at Cambrian College, closing the book on his baseball dream.

He would wrap up his career where it started, playing locally through 1985, juggling time between the Garson Tigers and the heavyweight Coniston Red Sox.

He tries his hand with the mining equipment sales force, bringing his killer instinct from the ball field to the workplace. The same mentality and mindset he had back in 1977 as a teenager continues to serve him well. A few decades later, the competitive edge has never left.

While he remains reserved in talking about himself and the “good old days,” he lights when passionately speaking about the special times he spent on the diamond.

Today, the sixty-year-old local gentleman is the Director of Group Sales at Cardinal Mining Equipment, based in Garson. While baseball brought him a lot of joy, though Castron is quick to note that the best thing that ever happened to him in baseball was meeting his wife in Yakima a few months before school ended.

But the tale of the diamond that ensued is a story for another day.

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