Goodbye Vinny, Say Shea?
Vinny Castilla

Posted Jul 20, 2006


Perhaps the greatest position player to represent Mexico in the major leagues was released Wednesday. Vinny Castilla, 39, was cut by the Padres.

"That was one of the toughest things I've ever had to do," manager Bruce Bochy said of having to tell Castilla that his days with the Padres were over. "It doesn't get any more difficult than this.

"It's been an honor and a pleasure managing Vinny."

Castilla started 65 of the Padres' first 93 games at third base and was hitting .232 with four homers and 23 RBIs in 254 at-bats. But he had only one extra-base hit (a homer) and four RBIs since June 20 and had struck out 16 times while going 13-for-58 without having a multi-hit game or drawing a walk.

A native of Oaxaca, Castilla is the all-time, major league leader among Mexican players in seven hitting categories -- home runs (319), RBIs (1,101), doubles (349), runs (900), extra-base hits (696), total bases (3,242) and hits (1,880).

Beyond his playing credentials, Castilla is considered a great teammate. He spent considerable time this season counseling 24-year-old Adrian Gonzalez.

"In Mexico, to his countrymen, he is Babe Ruth," said the Padres first baseman. "He is adored as a player and a man. He was a larger than life figure, like Ruth.

"His help was very special to me. He was very helpful when things were going bad. If not for Vinny, maybe I don't get out of that hole. We talked a lot. He understood what I was going through."

"Valuable human being," were the words Eric Young chose to describe Castilla. "Awesome person and a teammate."

"I think Vinny could see something happening," said Bochy, who just before the All-Star break said switch-hitters Mark Bellhorn and Geoff Blum would be seeing more time at third.

Castilla, who came to the Padres from Washington last winter in a trade for right-handed pitcher Brian Lawrence, was making $3.2 million this season with the Padres still owing him around $1.4 million -- plus $500,000 still owed Lawrence.

In an ironic twist that may impact the Padres, Shea Hillenbrand and the Blue Jays parted company Wednesday night.

The designated hitter, who turns 31 next Thursday, was designated for assignment during the middle of last night's 5-4 loss to Texas after being blasted by manager John Gibbons in a clubhouse meeting.

General manager J.P. Ricciardi simply said that Hillenbrand was designated "because of irreconcilable differences."

The final straw according to Hillenbrand, who is on a one-year, $5.8 million contract, involved a pre-game clubhouse incident in which he and other players were involved.

"I was pinpointed out (by Gibbons) and I was confronted," Hillenbrand said when reached by telephone.

"Gibbons told me to leave and go home, and I went to my car to cool off, and afterwards came back to the clubhouse, and that's when I was informed I had been designated for assignment."

Hillenbrand said that the relationship between him and Gibbons soured when the former everyday position player was limited to mainly full-time DH duties.

"I was unhappy not playing (at a position)," Hillenbrand said. "I had always played and always produced. I would go in and try to talk to 'Gibby', but he perceived it as me being a selfish player. It was just a conflict of personalities. I'm intense and I'm perceived the wrong way."

Hillenbrand came into last night's game hitting .301 with 12 home runs and 39 RBIs in 81 games (296 at-bats). Acquired in a trade with Arizona in January of 2005, Hillenbrand last season hit .291 with 18 home runs and 82 RBIs in 152 games.

Prior to the team meeting, Hillenbrand blasted the organization for not congratulating him on adopting a second child earlier in the week. Hillenbrand had been allowed to be with his wife during the adoption process, leaving the club last Saturday and returning following batting practice Tuesday.

"Nobody from the front office has congratulated me (concerning the adoption)," Hillenbrand said. "With this atmosphere, you wonder why they're not winning."

"I love my teammates, but I'm waiting to be traded; they should have traded me two months ago."

He sort of got his wish.



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