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Wilkin Castillo and the power of perseverance

The Miami Marlins catcher spent more than a decade trying to return to the big leagues. On Saturday, he finally made it back.

MLB: Miami Marlins at Philadelphia Phillies John Geliebter-USA TODAY Sports

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Wilkin Castillo is an unremarkable player.

Across his minor league career, the 35-year-old catcher has slashed an underwhelming .262/.301/.373. He hasn’t done much better in winter league ball, and his short stints in the majors have failed to make an impression. While coaches have praised his receiving skills and ability to work with young pitchers, it hasn’t been enough to secure a backup role at the MLB level. Look up organizational filler in a dictionary, and you’ll find a picture of Castillo staring right back at you.

But on Saturday, the longtime depth piece did something remarkable: He extended his hitting streak to three games.

Okay, I’m being slightly facetious. Before his start behind the dish with the Miami Marlins, Castillo hadn’t made an appearance in an MLB game since June 20, 2009, when he knocked in a run with a pinch-hit single for the Cincinnati Reds.

That’s 3,654 days between appearances, for those of you counting. To put that in perspective, Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner were still just baby-faced prospects, Matt Cain was still good, TGWTWS was a pipe dream, and I had just graduated high school.

That also happened to be the game where Castillo tore his right labrum, ending his season and effectively altering his career.

(Interestingly, the last time Castillo started in a game was September 22, 2008, when he played left field for the Reds against…the Marlins. Coincidence, or yet another victim of the Marlins Death Fog?)

Since 2009, Castillo has toiled away in the baseball equivalent of purgatory, bouncing between seven different team systems as well as 13 seasons in the Dominican Winter League, two seasons in the Mexican League, and a brief stop in the independent Atlantic League. Altogether, he played in 813 games before his second shot in the majors.

I can’t imagine the willpower it took to stick with a game that offered little chance to play at the top level again, especially for a player with numbers as pedestrian as Castillo’s. Dealing with the constant grind, laboring through one system after another, undoubtedly aware that a call-up grew less likely with each year that passed—just thinking about it makes me want to binge-watch Law and Order while eating a large pizza by myself.

It’s worth noting that most players don’t have the privilege of choosing when they will ultimately play their last game. The Giants’ recent past is littered with examples: Angel Pagan couldn’t find a job after 2016, Travis Ishikawa was unceremoniously dumped in 2015, and Tim Lincecum, bless his freakish heart, never managed to succeed in his comeback attempts.

In a way, Castillo’s story is no different. He’s just another player who refuses to hang up the spikes even when all the signs are clear. That’s how most careers end, I imagine—a stubborn determination that reality grinds down into quiet resignation. If Castillo was like anyone else, June 20, 2009, would have been the last time he ever suited up in a big-league uniform.

But clearly, even if Castillo the player is thoroughly mediocre, Castillo the human being is someone extraordinary.

So far, Castillo hasn’t made another appearance in a game, and it’s very possible he won’t take the field again before Jorge Alfaro is activated from the seven-day IL. And once he’s sent down, it’s likely for good.

But few people have the opportunity to live their dream twice, and no matter what happens, Castillo will always have a game-winning double to his name.

Enjoy your time in the majors, kid. See you in 10 years.