Castilla motivated by chance to win ring

Castilla motivated by opportunity to win a ring

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Vinny Castilla is beaming. He knows the game -- and these people surrounding him in his new clubhouse.

The Padres' third baseman has seen Mike Piazza launch missiles to win games for the Dodgers and Mets.

He has watched Mike Cameron run down balls in center field that maybe a half-dozen other humans could have handled.

He has been victimized by Jake Peavy's electric stuff, swung in vain at Trevor Hoffman's killer changeup, chased Chan Ho Park's fastball, Woody Williams' slider and Shawn Estes' sinker.

He has been dazzled by Khalil Greene's athleticism at shortstop.

He has observed Brian Giles' fiercely competitive nature and all-around skills.

He marveled at Ryan Klesko's raw power when they were young Braves prospects, and he knows the impact Eric Young, his old Colorado teammate, can have with his talent, energy and leadership.

Castilla looks around this room and arrives at a conclusion: "Why not us?"

"I think we have a great ballclub," said Castilla, who came to San Diego in an offseason swap that sent starter Brian Lawrence to Washington. "I don't just say that because it's Spring Training and everybody's optimistic; I say that because I mean it."

Castilla has been to the postseason four times in his illustrious career with three different teams. He has performed brilliantly in October, hitting .350 with five homers and 12 runs batted in 17 games. Yet, he departed each series filled with disappointment.

Hitting behind Eric Young with the '95 Rockies in his first taste of playoff baseball, Castilla had three homers and six RBIs in four games, batting .467. But the Rockies were taken out by the eventual World Series champion Braves.

He also was on the losing side in 2001 with Houston, and in 2002 and '03 with the Braves.

His reputation is cemented with 315 career homers, 1,078 RBIs, a .278 career average and consistently superlative defense.

What motivates Vinny at 38 is the hunt, the opportunity to win a ring.

"That should drive everybody in this clubhouse," Castilla said. "We've got a chance to be a team to win a championship.

"They made it to the playoffs last year [getting swept by St. Louis in the National League Division Series], and they have players, a manager, coaching staff and front office that want to take it to the next level.

"We have a great combination of young players and veteran players. You can feel the atmosphere here. We have great people and players here. They know how to win. I think we have the best team in the West -- great rotation, good defense and offense."

Castilla is coming off a subpar season with the Nationals, his mobility and ability to drive baseballs impaired by an injury to the patellar tendon in his left knee. He rehabbed at home near Denver and began taking some swings at Coors Field before heading to the desert to greet the reconstituted Padres, with new faces everywhere.

"I've always wanted to play in San Diego," the man from Oaxaca, Mexico, said. "It's a great city, close to Tijuana [Mexico]. I have a lot of friends there who will come and watch me play.

"I always hit in San Diego, too."

He has produced more hits (144), homers (33) and RBIs (88) against the Padres than any other club.

Like Piazza and Cameron, who are leaving New York for the cool summer evenings by the Pacific, Castilla expects to stay fresher over the long season.

"It's a beautiful place, with great weather," Vinny said. "The heat and humidity in the East can wear you out."

As recently as 2004 in Colorado, Castilla led the National League with 131 RBIs along with 35 homers, batting .271. Just as impressive was his .987 fielding percentage with only six errors in 148 games.

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"Castilla is a guy who can help us on both sides of the ball," manager Bruce Bochy said. "He'll give us some power and production, and he's an outstanding defensive player."

The club's third baseman in '05, Sean Burroughs, and Joe Randa produced a total of 37 RBIs. Castilla, with 66, almost doubled that in a substandard, injury-marred '05 playing in RFK Stadium, a park as daunting for hitters with its vast outfield as PETCO Park.

Long regarded as one of baseball's most dangerous fastball hitters, Castilla still can turn a heater around.

"We go way back, to some good times in Denver," Eric Young said. "He plays every day. He can hit for high average and power. He thrives in pressure situations.

"He's one of the best fielding third basemen I've ever seen. He made me look like an All-Star with his feeds on double plays when I played second in Colorado. Every throw was at my chest, right where I wanted it to be. He has a strong and accurate arm.

"Vinny's a great guy in any clubhouse, always smiling, telling good jokes. He's a fun-loving, happy-go-lucky guy, but he has the temperament to get aggressive when he needs to be, on the field."

Castilla will don Team Mexico's colors for the inaugural World Baseball Classic, playing alongside new Padres teammate Adrian Gonzalez, a gifted first baseman.

"It means a lot to represent your country, with the whole country watching," Castilla said. "It's going to be a great experience, the first time for a tournament like this."

What moves him most, however, is the notion of a long, eventful October.

Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.