Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Baseball [Print without images]

Thursday, January 12, 2012
Social responsibility key for any player

By Doug Glanville
ESPN.com

When I read about Starlin Castro and the sexual assault allegations against him, I knew he was a young star in turmoil. I do not claim to know the actual course of events that caused these allegations, but the clear truth is not needed to express that he probably wanted the results of that night to have gone differently. Maybe some of it was choice, maybe it was character, maybe it was youth, maybe it was misunderstanding, but he will certainly have to pay the price if he is found guilty … or even if he is found innocent.

Despite the notion that only superstars get fed popcorn by Hollywood starlets, the reality is any major league ballplayer could be Alex Rodriguez. All players have access. OK, maybe not access to Cameron Diaz, but to the point where they expect access. Opportunity is all around these players, and they are not all good opportunities.

Learning the lessons about how to navigate the social game to help you stay productive, a good role model, rested, out of jail and successful at the major league level, turns out to be just as important as learning how to lay off that nasty slider.

When I was coming up the Cubs' minor league ranks, talent was swirling all around me. That is the case for every organization. They import the best from all over the planet and have them battle for a few slots. Then one by one, people disappear. They get released, they get hurt, they don't produce. But lost in that list of reasons is the fact they may have been striking out off the field. Every player makes a few mistakes off the field, sometimes with bad intent, sometimes just because they are just learning the hard way as a young man away from home while working in a very tempting candy store.

In part, it is to be expected when you sign at 16 to 20 years old (like it was in my case). A ballplayer has to grow up very quickly in professional baseball despite the idea that you get to stay young forever. Maybe you can feel young, but you have to mature quickly when it comes to your game, your focus, your understanding about what you need to do to be on top, and some of that is how you handle the downtime when games aren't being played.

Learning the lessons about how to navigate the social game to help you stay productive, a good role model, rested, out of jail and successful at the major league level, turns out to be just as important as learning how to lay off that nasty slider.

I remember how naive I was when I was drafted. My entire social life changed the day I got drafted. Part of it was a newfound confidence in my future, but just as much was the magnetic interest people would take in my future. Both professionally and socially.

The social side was complicated for sure. The women who I convinced myself were unreachable were now reachable. Agents became matchmakers to avoid the messy world of dealing through the public dating circuit. You start to feel invincible, maybe even above the law in some cases, and this is the beginning of your problems.

I look back and I realize that I made some good decisions, but I was also a bit lucky that certain situations didn't go badly. I just happened to not want to see a movie the night one of my teammates brandished a gun at a man near a Jack in the Box in Arizona (police blocked off half of Mesa, Ariz., it seemed). I decided to head immediately home after I was suspicious that a woman at a house gathering was probably not in college as she had said to everyone. I chose to stay in when a group of teammates had a fun night in Daytona Beach only to find a detective at the stadium the next day because the woman hanging out with everyone had been found dead later that evening. I certainly am not psychic. Those choices seem to make me as much as I made them.

Baseball has mentors, and those mentors are highly necessary to help young men survive big league life with so much distraction around them. I sat on Garry Maddox's every word, just as I did Shawon Dunston's. They had been there and they spoke from direct experience, not from a high and mighty pedestal.

It is a lot to ask these young, excited men to stay inside. I know curfews are just about everywhere, partly to instill commitment, partly to keep the law at bay should someone choose to blame the entire organization for a team party gone bad. They also have to learn the difference between being a target and being genuinely attractive. The ego doesn't like to make that distinction, but it helps you get a sense of who is interested in you, the person, and who is interested in you, the image.

The most difficult element in developing a young player is trust. Once a player signs a contract, opinions start flying about him. People want to change your swing or your release point. It takes a lot of self-awareness at a young age to know what to embrace and what advice to throw out when you are so far from the big leagues and in need of sponsors. You don't trust that people have your best interest at heart, not because of anything that they did to you, but because you have not had the time or tools to evaluate people.

The same holds true for players off the field and the intentions of others. It could be the dating scene, or it could just be the entourage that formed around you overnight. Who are these people, really?

Castro had a great year in 2011, but it was a rough year. He made the National League All-Star team. He hits well beyond his years. He is cool as a cucumber at an age when players are just trying to figure out the basics of being a professional. Yet, he has had his bouts with concentration lapses and frustrations that may actually be age-appropriate in many ways.

When I was his age, 21, I was already in the principal's office for not coming in first place when running with a group of pitchers, in short-season A-ball in Geneva, N.Y. I was five years from landing in Wrigley Field. Castro is a big league All-Star. Quite an amazing accomplishment.

I would hope that Castro learns something important from these allegations. I can't vouch for who he is, so maybe it is that he needs big help with his interaction with women, or maybe he just needs to be more cautious and choose his company differently. No big leaguer is untouchable, especially when on the wrong side of the law. In fact, he just has to be on the wrong side of a story, and the hole is too big when on the wrong side of outrage. It can be unfair, a word easy to roll off the tongue of a 21-year-old star, but he has a bull's-eye on his back -- fair or not -- and what he does is noticeable and scrutinized.

I think of Castro's teammate, Marlon Byrd, who I was a mentor for, just as Dunston was for me. He has taken his game and responsibility to the next level. I am sure he is in Castro's ear, and if he wasn't, he is now, and often. That is really what a young player needs.

Doug Glanville, who earned a degree in systems engineering from the University of Pennsylvania, played nine major league seasons with the Cubs, Phillies and Rangers. He serves on the board of Athletes Against Drugs and on the board of the MLB Players Alumni Association. His book, "The Game from Where I Stand," was released in May 2010. Click here to buy it in paperback on Amazon.com. Follow him on Twitter: @dougglanville