Notes: Castilla calls it a career
Former big leaguer makes final start for Mexico in Series
CAROLINA, P.R. -- A standout third baseman in 16 Major League seasons, Vinny Castilla ironically closed out his playing career Wednesday afternoon playing first base.
At age 39, it seemed fitting that the revered star of the Hermosillo Orangemen had a shorter walk to the Mexican dugout in his final game.
Castilla, who retired from the big leagues last season, asked to play one final time for Mexico in the Caribbean Series. The Caribbean Series wrapped up for Mexico at Roberto Clemente Walker Stadium with an afternoon showdown with Venezuela.
While he is retiring as a player, Castilla aspires to someday wear the uniform again: as either a coach or manager. This year, though, he will be working with the Rockies as a special assistant to general manager Dan O'Dowd.
As a big leaguer, Castilla enjoyed an impressive career, batting .276 with 320 home runs and 1,105 RBIs. He played 1,656 of his 1,854 games at third base, and just nine at first.
In his final game, Castilla also showed that he still can play. His fourth-inning double was the first hit allowed by Venezuela's Horacio Estrada. And Castilla scored on Luis Garcia's RBI single to left.
Based on his strong big-league career, and his passion for playing for his country, Castilla is arguably the most popular position player in Mexican history. And he rivals former Dodgers star pitcher Fernando Valenzuela in terms of national appeal.
"Vinny is a hero, there is no doubt about it," Mexico manager Lorenzo Bundy said. "There is not going to be anybody that comes close [from Mexico] to what he's done offensively."
Castilla has made it clear he wants to manage someday, and Bundy believes when the time comes, the former third baseman could make the adjustment.
"There is no doubt about Vinny's knowledge of the game," Bundy said. "It's immense. I'm sure he's thought about managing and things like that. He's a special assistant to Dan O'Dowd right now. What lies down the road for him, as far as managing, I think he's going to have to make that decision when he wants to really put that uniform back on."
Historical perspective: Winning the 2007 Caribbean Series ups the Dominican Republic's record total of championships to 16.
In the 49 years of the Series, the next closest is Puerto Rico with 14. Venezuela has won six and Mexico five.
It was the first Dominican title since 2004. Their dominance was shown as they outscored the opposition, 37-7, in the first five games of the tournament, which clinched the crown.
And the Dominicans have won seven of the past 11 Series.
The Caribbean Series began in 1949 and the field of teams was a bit different back then. The first champions were from Cuba. Panama took home the trophy in 1950.
Cuba and Puerto Rico dominated from 1949-1960. Cuba won seven titles, including five straight in that stretch. Puerto Rico added four championships, with three in a row from 1953-55.
The Series stopped in 1961 and resumed in 1970, with Venezuela claiming its first title.
Some of the notable managers who won championships are Manny Mota (Dominican Licey) in 1971, Tommy Lasorda (Dominican Licey) in 1973, Jose Pagan (Puerto Rico Bayamon) in 1975, Rene Lachemann (Puerto Rico Mayaguez) in 1978, Willie Horton (Venezuela Magallanes) in 1979, Del Crandall (Dominican Licey) in 1980, John Roseboro (Dominican Licey) in 1991, Tony Pena (Dominican Cibao) in 1998 and Manny Acta (Dominican Licey) in 2004.
Current Dominican skipper Felix Fermin has won three titles since 2001, becoming the only manager to lead three Caribbean Series title teams.
Hall of Famer's views: Hall of Famer Tony Perez spends his offseason in Puerto Rico and he made a visit to the Caribbean Series.
Born in Cuba, Perez was a key member of the "Big Red Machine" World Series championship teams in Cincinnati.
Early in his professional career, Perez frequently played in the Caribbean Series as a member of Puerto Rico. Perez feels the tournament lacks some of the luster because the top Major League players don't participate.
"It used to be bigger," Perez said. "Now, it's starting to come back. The fans were more into it. Those days, big-league players participated more. When I played, a lot more big-league players played."
Why did more established big leaguers compete a couple of decades ago?
"Maybe we needed the money, I guess," Perez said. "You wanted to represent your country. Back then it wasn't really a big deal in terms of money. Everybody wanted to play.
"It's important for the Latin players to play for their countries. Like the Dominican guys -- [Miguel] Tejada, he plays every year. He never thinks about getting hurt or anything like that."
Perez said playing in the Caribbean Series made him a better ballplayer.
"When I was in Cuba, I played every Sunday," said Perez. "I didn't play regular day baseball. In the Minor Leagues, I played every day, all week. In the winter, I got used to playing every day."
Pena learning the ropes: Even when not in the lineup, Tony Pena Jr. is gaining loads of experience just being part of the Dominican Republic squad.
An infielder with the Atlanta Braves, Pena took advantage of whatever role was asked of him at the Caribbean Series. He learned and observed by watching stars like Tejada.
"Definitely, it helps you a lot," Pena said. "Last year, I started off playing a little bit, and then Tejada came in. He just showed you how to play the game, a lot of the little things. It helped me out playing in the States. It's good for a lot of young players to play winter ball, because it's going to definitely help you get ready.
"The Series is good because you start to have a little more baseball mentality. You get to Spring Training a little more ready."
One of Pena's objects this season playing in the Winter Leagues was to improve his plate discipline. He felt some improvement in the round-robin tournament that led into the Caribbean Series.
Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.