NA’s Castro returns home, pays huge dividends


After spending the first two years of his high school career at North Arlington High School, Christian Castro thought that he needed a change.

“I thought that a different change, a different place of scenery might help me,” Castro said. “I thought a change would fit me.”

So Castro transferred to St. Mary’s of Rutherford to begin his junior year.

However, Castro wasn’t too happy with the move.

“I missed all my friends,” Castro said. “I wasn’t used to the environment there. I wanted to come back.”

So Castro sat down with his parents and discussed the possibility of transferring back to North Arlington.

“At first, it was kind of hard, but once I explained myself, they were willing to do anything that would make me happy. It just wasn’t a great fit for me.”

After just six months at St. Mary’s, Castro returned back to North Arlington.

However, there was a price to pay. Because of the NJSIAA transfer rules, Castro had to sit out the first 30 days of last baseball season.

“That was extremely tough,” Castro said about sitting out. “It was hard for me to see my team not doing well and I couldn’t do anything about it. Sitting out really hurt me.”

When Castro returned last May, he came back with a vengeance, hitting .560 over the last 13 games of the season with a homer and 11 RBI.

“I knew that I had to make some contributions to my team,” Castro said.

“He came back and we put him right back into the lineup,” North Arlington head baseball coach Paul Marcantuono said. “There were no hard feelings. We were glad to have him back.”

As Castro prepared for his final high school campaign this year, he did everything he could to get recognized by colleges.

“I knew my grades weren’t great, but I wanted to play college baseball,” Castro said.

So to his credit, Castro developed his own highlight tape and sent it to as many junior colleges that he could find, hoping one might give him a shot to play.

“I got some e-mails back, but no one was saying much,” Castro said. “I knew that if I went JUCO (junior college), I could play there, get my grades up and transfer to a good four-year school. So I looked up some of the best JUCOs and stated emailing my highlight tape.”

One of the schools that showed a ton of interest was Tompkins Cortland Community College, located in Dryden, N.Y.

“I never heard of the school,” Castro said. “I didn’t even know it existed.”

Ryan Stevens, a native of Dryden who is in his second season as the head coach at Tompkins Cortland, is a former professional coach (Texarkana Gunslingers of the Continental Baseball League) who was also a scout for the Washington Nationals. Stevens liked what he saw in Castro’s tape and offered him a scholarship.

“I went to visit the school and fell in love with it,” Castro said. “The coaching staff is excellent. I knew Coach Stevens was a good coach, a professional coach. It was a really good fit. He told me that I could definitely play there.”

So everything was finally in place for Castro. He was back at North Arlington, where he felt he always belonged and had his college plans firmly in place. Castro was all set to have a sensational senior year for the Vikings.

But then disaster struck _ or so it seemed.

In a recent game against Paterson Charter, Castro was attempting to score when the throw home nailed the sliding Castro square on his hand.

“I didn’t want to look at it, because I thought it was bad,” Castro said.

“I thought his season was over,” Marcantuono said. “I felt so bad for the kid. He hurt his knee freshman season and missed half the year. He had to sit out half of last year because of the transfer and now this. His hand looked like a balloon. I was thinking bad news.”

The North Arlington trainer instructed Castro to go to the emergency room at St. Barnabas Hospital.

“The knuckle looked out of place,” Castro said. “I saw it and I was devastated. I knew I missed so many games last year and now this happened. It definitely looked like my season could be over.”

Luckily, X-rays proved to be negative and Castro’s hand was not broken.

“The doctors told me to ice it a lot and with rest, I should be good to go,” Castro said. “It was bandaged pretty well.”

Three days later, Castro was back in the lineup, collected two more hits (both doubles) and two more RBI.

“He came back and banged two more off the fence,” Marcantuono said.

For the week, Castro had six hits, including four doubles, a homer and six RBI.

For his efforts, Castro has been selected as The Observer Athlete of the Week for the past week, the first honoree of the spring scholastic sports season.

Marcantuono makes no bones about his senior slugging second baseman.

“He’s one of the best hitters I’ve ever coached,” Marcantuono said. “He hits for power. He hits for contact. It’s a rare combination, power and contact, but Christian has that. He’s just a good hitter. He never strikes out and makes contact to all fields. He makes our lineup that much better. He’s just a physical presence.

Added Marcantuono, “And the kids all respect him. He’s a vocal leader. He’s fiery and gets the team going. He’s gotten much better as a player.”

Castro comes from a litany of baseball players. His grandfather, Armando Castro Sr., was a good baseball player in his native Cuba and still works out with his grandson. Armando Castro Jr. played high school baseball at Harrison High School (Class of 1993) and is a driving force to Christian’s success.

“My Dad has been a tremendous influence on me,” Christian Castro said. “He pushes me to be the best I can be. He’s a great contributor to my baseball life and to everything else in my life. He films every at-bat and we later watch it together, to see if I’m doing anything wrong and see if we can fix it. He’s been there for me every step of the way.”

Now, it is a happy story. Castro is healthy and swinging a hot bat. The Vikings are a better team and Castro is headed to a good school.

“He’s been with us for four years,” Marcantuono said. “We all knew his talent. We knew he could be a top hitter for us. I knew he was not going to miss his senior year, not after all he’s been through.”

“Having friends and teammates like Joel Silva and Brian Costello help me, because we all push each other every day,” Castro said. “My friends had confidence in me. That’s why I had to come back.”

Castro has some high aspirations for this season.

“My goal was to hit .600,” Castro said. “It’s a broad goal, but I have faith in myself. I know I can do that and I’m going to try my best to get to that number.”

After all he’s endured, who would dare to doubt Christian Castro?


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Jim Hague | Observer Sports Writer

Sports Writer Jim Hague was with The Observer for 20+ years — and his name is one of the most recognizable in all of sports journalism. The St. Peter’s Prep and Marquette alum kicked off his journalism career post Marquette at the Daily Record, where he remained until 1985. Following shorts stints at two other newspapers, in September 1986, he joined the now-closed Hudson Dispatch, where he remained until 1991, when its doors were finally shut.

It was during his tenure at The Dispatch that Hague’s name and reputation as one of country’s hardest-working sports reporters grew. He won several New Jersey Press Association and North Jersey Press Club Awards in that timeframe.

In 1991, he became a columnist for The Hudson Reporter chain of newspapers — and he remains with them to this day.

In addition to his work at The Observer and The Hudson Reporter, Hague is also an Associated Press stringer, where he covers Seton Hall University men’s basketball, New York Red Bulls soccer and occasionally, New Jersey Devils hockey.

He’s also doing work at The Morristown Daily Record, the very newspaper where his journalism career began.

During his career, he also worked for Dorf Feature Services, which provided material for the Star-Ledger. While there, he covered the New York Knicks and the New Jersey Nets.

Hague is also known for his announcing work — and he’s done PA work for Rutgers Newark and NJIT.

Hague is the author of the book “Braddock: The Rise of the Cinderella Man.”