Castro rebounds from injury, leads Stanford back to CWS
FULLERTON, Calif. -- The flight attendants on the plane bound from San Jose to Southern California last week gave routine instructions for passengers to turn off their cell phones before takeoff, but Stanford catcher Jason Castro didn't comply.
The day was anything but routine for him.
The baseball draft had begun, and Castro, waiting to hear which team would take him, quietly left his phone on.
"I lost service a couple of minutes after we took off anyway," he said. "It was an anxious plane ride. It was an hour, but it seemed a lot longer."
By the time Stanford's delayed flight to Orange County for the Fullerton Super Regional landed, the Houston Astros had taken Castro 10th overall.
"I must have had 30 messages," he said.
The first was from Joe Graham, the Astros' area scout for Northern California.
"It went right to voice mail, so I knew he was on the plane," Graham said. "It was almost comical."
Bases loaded, tied 5-5, 3-2 count. I was sitting there and I said to myself, 'I know what's going to happen.' All done. He's really good when he comes to the plate with runners in scoring position, and that says a lot to me, the way he hits in the clutch.
--Astros scout Joe Graham
So it turns out Castro wasn't only sky high about being drafted. He was sky high when he was drafted.
The 6-foot-3 junior -- a left-handed-hitting catcher -- didn't waste any time in the super regional before confirming the Astros' confidence in him. He hit a two-run home run against Cal State Fullerton in Game 1, then a game-winning three-run double in the sixth inning of Game 2 that sent Stanford (39-22-2) to the College World Series for the first time since 2003.
Graham was watching.
"Bases loaded, tied 5-5, 3-2 count. I was sitting there, and I said to myself, 'I know what's going to happen.' All done," Graham said. "He's really good when he comes to the plate with runners in scoring position, and that says a lot to me, the way he hits in the clutch."
The Astros have had their eyes on Castro for years -- his grandfather, Tom Castro, played youth baseball with scout Gene Wellman -- but there were times last season when it would have been hard to imagine Castro's being drafted so high.
After batting .283 as a freshman while playing mostly first base, Castro hit only .167 in 42 games as a sophomore after undergoing surgery for a broken hamate bone in his right hand before the season.
"I guess it's pretty common in baseball and golf," Castro said. "It was a struggle. I had surgery, and it was kind of a tough blow. I had some issues with it, coming back. It healed a little slower than I thought it would."
The season ended with Stanford failing to make the postseason for the first time since 1993, and Castro finally took a couple of weeks off.
"After the season, I took a step back and mentally readjusted and got off to a fresh start," he said.
He went to the Cape Cod League and found his swing and his confidence again, glad to have abandoned metal bats for wood.
"When I didn't hit it just right with the metal bat, I'd feel the vibrations," he said.
He ended up batting .341 in the Cape Cod League with four home runs and 24 RBIs in 39 games.
Back at Stanford this season, he assumed the starting catcher's duties and is hitting .379 with 13 home runs and 69 RBIs. He leads the Cardinal in batting average, RBIs and doubles and has made only two errors this season, helping him become one of three finalists for the Johnny Bench Award given to college baseball's top catcher. The other candidates are Coastal Carolina's Dock Doyle and Florida State's Buster Posey.
"Jason has always been a good hitter, but unfortunately he broke a bone in his hand and came back earlier than he probably should have and really struggled last season," Stanford coach Mark Marquess said. "It kind of mushroomed, but we weren't worried. We knew he could hit.
"What I really am happy with is his defense, receiving and handling pitchers. That's really key. He never came off a bad at-bat and carried it onto the field."
Being drafted 10th overall has given Castro a little higher profile, as has a postseason performance in which he is hitting .464 with 13 RBIs.
He still might be no more than the second-best-known Jason Castro in some circles, though.
A dreadlocked 20-year-old singer by the same name was a contestant on "American Idol" this season.
"I've seen pictures of him. I've never seen him perform," the Stanford catcher said. "It's pretty funny. I've been heckled for it before. Probably the biggest was at the University of Arizona, a whole section of guys."
The other Jason Castro was voted off "American Idol" in early May.
At the College World Series in Omaha, Neb., it is this Jason Castro's turn to make a name for himself.
Robyn Norwood is a former Los Angeles Times staff writer.
MORE COLLEGE SPORTS HEADLINES
- NCAA settles concussion suit with $70M fund
- Pauley Pavilion court flooded as main breaks
- UC Riverside tabs ex-closer Percival coach
- Giving back: Beadles donates $750K to Utes
MOST SENT STORIES ON ESPN.COM
ROAD TO OMAHA
Bracket | Schedule/results
College World Series finals -- Game 3• Griffin: Fresno State's title is good for sport
• Griffin: From the land of misfits, a champion
• Fresno State shocks Georgia for first CWS title
• Around the Horn: Ace effort
College World Series finals -- Game 2• Griffin: Early struggles spark postseason success
• Fresno State forces Game 3 in 19-10 win
• Around the Horn: Know when to Holden
College World Series finals -- Game 1• Griffin: Beckham calls the shots | Recap
• Around the Horn: Can the Bulldogs bounce back?
• Kimmey: Burning Questions
College World Series -- Day 9• Merrill: CWS attracts a colorful crowd
• Georgia bounces back in big way
• Fresno State stuns UNC to advance to CWS
• Around the Horn: Magic Men
College World Series -- Day 8• McKeever: Georgia's Poythress of steel | Recap
• North Carolina evades elimination on Saturday
• Around the Horn: Flack Attack
College World Series -- Day 7• Pitching powers UNC past LSU | Recap
• Around the Horn: Perfect Pitch
College World Series -- Day 6• North Carolina-LSU suspended because of rain
College World Series -- Day 5• Stanford pitches by committee | Recap
• Around the Horn: Sick Feeling
College World Series -- Day 4• LSU is the Dean of Comebacks | Recap
• Fresno State within a win from the CWS finals
• Around the Horn: Wild Card
College World Series -- Day 3• Miami gets out of a hairy situation | Recap
• Georgia rallies in seventh to edge Stanford
• Around the Horn: Where the wild things are
College World Series -- Day 2• Merrill: Fresno's mighty heart | Recap
• UNC escapes LSU's rally
• Arround the Horn: White's Stripes
College World Series -- Day 1• Merrill: Stanford stuns Florida State | Recap
• Georgia rallies in ninth to down top-seed Miami
• Around the Horn: Fields' Day
College World Series Preview• Merrill: Fresno is crashing the CWS party
• Schlabach: Ring is the thing for FSU's Martin
• Albright: LSU's long and winding road
• Haller: Bulldog mentality suits Fresno State
• Dinich: Hernandez tapped for Miami greatness
• Norwood: Castro making name for himself
• Kimmey: Five burning questions
Super Regional Features• Haller: Fresno State extends Cinderella streak
• Albright: LSU sends Alex Box out in style
• Dinich: Balance key to Miami's success
• Schlabach: FSU survives Wichita, fans
• Norwood: Stanford completes comeback
Super Regional Previews• Griffin: Rice duo eases fans' worries
• Schlabach: Draft on the minds of Georgia stars
• Coaching keys Fullerton's success
• Dinich: NC State's 'pen shuts the door
• Kimmey: Burning super regional questions
Regional Coverage• Griffin: Aggies got a new attitude
• Norwwod: New faces, same story for Fullerton
• Schlabach: Georgia rallies -- again
• McKeever: (Ant)Eaters your hearts out
• Dinich: NC State shows grit
• Griffin: Rice's win is thrice as nice
• Recaps: Monday | Sunday
Regional Previews• Kimmey: Six regional burning questions
• BA: Region-by-region preview
• Albright: UNC's throwing pains
• Albright: ACC's tournament contenders