Rusney Castllo (WEEI.com photo)
FORT MYERS, Fla. — At 12:05 p.m., Rusney Castillo officially became a little less of a mystery.
The newly-signed outfielder stepped into the batters box for the Red Sox Gulf Coast League team, leading off and serving as a designated hitter, playing competitively for the first time since July, 2013.
With friends, family and some curious South Florida fans lining Field 1 at the Red Sox minor league training facility, Castillo watched a Luis Cedeno fastball sail just outside the strike zone for a ball. After another ball, the right-handed hitter jumped all over a third heater from the 20-year-old Venezuelan for a line-drive single just to the right of the shortstop.
Castillo attempted to make the most of his trip to first, attempting a steal of second on catcher Alvaro Noriega. The 19-year-old backstop got the better of the battle, however, gunning down the 5-foot-9 speedster.
“I’ve done this for a long time. it’s like riding a bike,” Castillo said through translator Laz Guiterrez. “I felt good and I was happy I was back out there today.”
Regarding the stolen base attempt, he added, “That’s my game. try to get on and try to steal. It was something I was definitely thinking about.”
Castillo’s second (and final) at-bat didn’t go as well, sitting down on a called third strike after seeing three fastballs. The first he took a healthy cut on the initial pitch and then fouled off the second before watching Strike Three on the outside corner.
“I feel great. It was a good day,” he said. “I’ve wanted this day to come for a long time now. It finally got here. I feel good physically and mentally.”
After exiting the game, Castillo signed autographs for about 10 minutes before joining Gutierrez in taking a golf cart over to speak with about a small gathering of media members.
Among the five-minute series of questions, Castillo was asked about how he viewed the successes of Cuban players before him.
“It’s definitely added a lot of confidence, it’s definitely motivated me,” he said. “I want my countrymen to do well ‘ guys that he played with. It’s definitely a motivating factor and something that’s assisted him with his confidence level.”
With the GCL Red Sox slated to play again Monday, in Tampa against the Yankees, Castillo will likely stay with the group before most likely advancing to Single-A Salem.
A likely scenario would put Castillo in a Red Sox uniform sometime in the middle of September, perhaps during their final road trip of the season (Kansas City, Pittsburgh, Baltimore).
“My No. 1 objective would be to be the same player I’ve always been, play my game and not try to do too much or try to become someone else, another type of player that I’m not,” he said.