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Castro Q&A: Baseball beats birthdays

MESA, Ariz. -- The Chicago Cubs' best player turned just 23 on Sunday, but Starlin Castro is already a two-time All-star and hoping for even bigger and better things for himself and his team in 2013. With a week left before opening day, Castro spoke with ESPNChicago.com about his big day and the upcoming season:

Jesse Rogers: Your birthday is always in spring training. Do you ever get to really celebrate?

Starlin Castro: No, I’m not celebrating. It’s baseball time. I’ll celebrate a lot in the offseason in the Dominican. I think one of those days I’ll say "It’s my birthday, today," but now, I don’t have time for celebrating.

JR: Why do you think this is going to be such a big year for you? Mostly because your contract situation is behind you?

SC: It’s not that. That’s a small part of it. Just because the team we have right now. Everybody is together, everybody is happy. I just feel like it’s going to be a big year for me. Not just for me, but everybody is ready to go.

JR: With a full season of Anthony Rizzo and Alfonso Soriano hitting behind you, are you excited to see a lot of good pitches?

SC: Oh yeah, believe it. Second is one of the spots I like to hit. I see more fastballs, I can move runners, I can get more RBIs. It’s better.

JR: What have the coaches told you lately? What’s the most important thing for you?

SC: The most important thing they say is to win. Just being prepared to have a good year. I’m working hard on my defense. I want to be good. The team is together. I don’t want to lose a game because I make a mental error or an error I can avoid.

JR: You missed the middle portion of spring training with an injury but you seem locked in at the plate just as you were before you got hurt. Do you feel that way?

SC: Believe it. I’m locked in, man. I feel ready. I feel ready to go.

JR: Can you be locked in too soon?

SC: That’s why (Cubs manager) Dale (Sveum) is giving a day off to everybody, but I tell him I don’t want a day off. I missed two weeks with a hamstring, I don’t want a day off. I want to play like it’s April 1.

JR: You’re off on Monday.

SC: I’m off but I’ll be there. Maybe I pinch hit or something. I don’t know.

JR: So that means you can go out for your birthday tonight (Sunday).

SC: Maybe in Scottsdale, but I have to be ready in case I have to pinch hit.

JR: Your birthday gift came early when the Cubs signed you to that big contract at the end of last season. What did you do for your family or yourself?

SC: I bought a house for my family in the Dominican Republic. It was a great feeling. That’s the only thing that I did. That’s the only thing I try to do being here, help my family. I come from poor people. I try to help my mom every time.

JR: Are you any more of a leader in the clubhouse now that you’ve been around and been an All-Star and everything?

SC: Nah, I don’t look to do that. Just do my work and help my team to win.

JR: Do you think Javier Baez and Jorge Soler are going to be playing next to you soon?

SC: (whistles) Oh yeah. Those are good guys. Soler is quiet. I like him. Baez can hit.