FAMILY AFFAIR: BASEBALL BROTHERS-IN-LAW BOND DURING SHUTDOWN
By Jerry Crasnick
Amed Rosario and Willi Castro -- Dominican countrymen, brothers-in-law and coronavirus shutdown roomies -- are focusing on self-improvement as they await a return to play. Five days a week, they lug their gloves and gear to a complex in Tampa, where they take part in a range of baseball and conditioning activities. They both play shortstop, and they have lots of ground to cover -- literally and figuratively -- if they want to reach their preferred destination.
With no games on the schedule, they’re learning that boredom, anxiety and separation from loved ones are more tolerable when shared.
Let’s start with the particulars. Castro, 23, broke into professional ball with Cleveland in 2014 and moved on to Detroit two years ago in a trade that sent outfielder Leonys Martin to the Indians. After hitting .230 with a .624 OPS during a 30-game cameo in 2019, he’s ready to make a run at the Tigers’ starting shortstop job. “Every time I wake up and go to work, I always say, ‘I want to be 1 percent better every day,’’’ Castro said.
Rosario, 24, is further along on the spectrum. After experiencing some growth pains with the New York Mets, he turned it on and hit .319 with an .804 OPS following the All-Star break last season. His combination of skills, confidence and growing maturity scream “breakout’’ once the games resume.
The two shortstops are joined as brothers-in-law -- or cunados -- through Castro’s marriage to Rosario’s sister, Aniana. On Dec. 20, she gave birth to a seven-pound, ¼-ounce baby girl named Arantxa Wailany. After six weeks of doting on his new pride and joy, Castro left the Dominican for Tigers camp in Lakeland, Fla., while wife and daughter remained behind in Santo Domingo with Amed’s parents. German Abad Rosario is a former criminal lawyer and judge in the Dominican, and Amed’s mother, Nerys, worked for years as a business administrator.
Now it’s four months and counting since Castro last saw his wife and baby girl. While he wants nothing more than to sing Arantxa to sleep in his arms and stockpile memories, he has to settle for fleeting glimpses and remote conversations via FaceTime or WhatsApp.
During the endless down time, and vulnerable moments, Castro is free to let down his guard with Rosario at the Tampa apartment they share with outfielder Julio Rodriguez, a fellow Dominican and elite prospect in the Seattle Mariners’ system.
“It’s helped our friendship a lot,’’ Rosario said in a recent phone conversation. “Obviously, with the pandemic, we’re stuck at home. So we’re training together, playing video games together and just spending more time together. It’s helped us build our relationship a lot.’’
The aspiring pros first met in 2012, when they played on the same developmental team in the Dominican. Rosario caught the eye of Willi’s father, Liliano, a respected Dominican baseball figure and former coach in the Mets’ organization, and signed with New York for a $1.75 million bonus. It was a franchise record for an international amateur player.
The family ties were formed after Castro signed with Cleveland and completed his first professional season in the Arizona League in 2014. Rosario sent him a Facebook friend request, and Aniana followed up with a personal message. “We met up after the season and went to see some movies,’’ Castro said. “After that, we were boyfriend and girlfriend.’’
Rosario broke in as the Mets’ No. 28 prospect and ascended to the top of the Baseball America rankings three years ago. “Rosario has the potential to be an All-Star shortstop with Gold Glove potential who can bat near the top of the lineup,’’ BA said in its 2017 scouting report.
Rosario’s immediate goal is to improve his explosive burst, lateral movement and agility. Monday through Friday, he and Castro train at the Performance Compound in Tampa under Yo Murphy, a former professional football player who has worked with Sammy Watkins, Allen Robinson, Alshon Jeffery, Carlos Hyde and numerous other NFL players. Rosario and Castro spend about two hours running, lifting and doing agility drills before proceeding to the baseball portion of the program -- throwing, hitting and fielding groundballs.
During their free time, they play Call of Duty on Play Station 4 and hone their culinary skills, cooking chicken with rice and other dishes that remind them of home. Rosario has an affinity for TV shows in the true-crime genre, while Castro swears by “Surviving Escobar.’’
For the most part, their lives revolve around baseball. As kids, they both adopted former Mets shortstop Jose Reyes as their favorite player because of his energy, perpetual smile and all-around game. Over 16 big-league seasons, Rosario amassed 2,138 hits and made three All-Star teams. That’s a high bar of longevity and achievement.
“Amed has navigated the road that Willi is trying to travel down,’’ said Ulises Cabrera, Rosario’s agent. “So in that way, Willi has to look to Amed for guidance and input. But at the same time, Willi is the husband of his sister so that creates an additional layer of closeness and respect. They are both grounded and educated and family-focused people who have had baseball in their lives since childhood.’’
At the moment, the brothers-in-law are in a state of professional and personal limbo. Aniana had initially planned to fly to the U.S. with baby Arantxa around March 13. Then spring training ended and the coronavirus shutdown began. Airports in the Dominican were closed, and now everyone is awaiting guidance on a possible reunion.
“It’s really hard, but at the same time, I’m grateful,’’ Castro said. “My baby is doing fine and my family is good. I don’t worry as much because I know she’s in good hands.’’
As is he. Regardless of how this chapter ends, the Rosarios and Castros will get there together, as a family.