Rockies bring back one of their own, sign 3B Castilla

Updated: August 15, 2006, 1:04 AM ET
Associated Press

Vinny Castilla couldn't contain the ear-to-ear grin. He smiled as photos were snapped, and grinned when he answered questions.

Third Base
San Diego Padres

72 4 23 24 .260 .232

Castilla was elated to be back with the Colorado Rockies, agreeing to terms on a minor-league contract Monday for his third stint with the franchise. He previously played for the Rockies from 1993-1999, and again in 2004.

General manager Dan O'Dowd, who traded the fan favorite in 1999, was also pleased to be reunited with Castilla.

"I am the one," said O'Dowd, who dealt Castilla to Tampa Bay for pitcher Rolando Arrojo and infielder Aaron Ledesma. "We're extremely excited to have Vinny back."

Castilla will play a few weeks with the Triple-A Colorado Springs Sky Sox as a designated hitter to work on his swing and test his sore knee. If everything goes as scheduled, Castilla will be brought up Sept. 1 when rosters expand. Following the season, Castilla will retire and join the organization in an as of yet undetermined capacity.

"I'm excited to retire as a Rockie," said Castilla, who originally came up with the Atlanta Braves.

The third baseman was released by the San Diego Padres on July 21 after hitting .232 with four homers and 23 RBI in 72 games. Castilla is a career .276 hitter and was a member of the Rockies' only playoff team in 1995.

"In the brief history of our franchise, few players have endeared themselves to Rockies fans as much as Vinny," Rockies president Keli McGregor said.

Castilla is third among the all-time club leaders in games (1,083) and home runs (238), and fourth in RBI (741), hits (1,202), runs (609) and total bases (2,164). He was an All-Star in 1995 and '98 with Colorado.

"My best years are behind me," Castilla said.

Yet Colorado still thinks he can be a factor in a late pennant race. The young Rockies can rely on his veteran leadership.

"We think we can get him involved where he can give us some help," manager Clint Hurdle said. "There's not a more optimistic player around."

But even the optimistic Castilla figured his career was over when the Padres cut him loose. He's grateful for the chance to retire in Colorado.

"I have great memories," Castilla said.

Chief among them being a member of the famed "Blake Street Bombers." The lineup of Ellis Burks, Dante Bichette, Larry Walker, Andres Galarraga and Castilla helped give the park its reputation as a launching pad.

Castilla hit 40 home runs in three consecutive seasons at Coors Field from 1996-98.

"I'm excited to retire as a Rocky," he said.

As for the future, Castilla hopes to be involved with the younger players in the minor league system. He also may play a role in identifying talent in Mexico. Castilla is from Oaxaca, Mexico, and has the most career home runs (319), hits (900), RBI (1,101) and doubles (349) of any player born in Mexico in major league history.

"Vinny's presence in Mexico itself [will help]," O'Dowd said. "That's the one part of our Latin America game plan that we needed to get better in."

The players think Castilla's September addition could be the boost the team needs.

"He brings a lot of fun to the clubhouse," said pitcher Aaron Cook, who played with Castilla in 2004. "He'll be a good leader for us."

No more so than down the stretch.

"When you look around the clubhouse we don't really have any guys with playoff experience," Cook said. "He's been part of that. He can help us relax and tell guys to have fun down the stretch."

Castilla was supposed to take batting practice Monday with the Rockies, but his equipment hadn't arrived from San Diego yet.

"We can hook you up with some stuff," O'Dowd said.

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press