To hear Matt Kastelic tell it, the transition from college to pro baseball can be overwhelming.
He talks of the physical and mental drain of playing every day, the switch from aluminum to wooden bats, the upgrade in talent, the demands of the coaching staff, the travel "I knew it was going to be tough," Kastelic said. "I battle it every day. You know, there are times your swing doesn't feel good, your body doesn't feel good. It takes a lot of effort."
Around this point you wonder whether Kastelic is fibbing.
Two months into this horrible transition, Kastelic was hitting .362 for the Butte Copper Kings, the Devil Rays' affiliate in the Pioneer League.
He may be off to the best start of any hitter in the Tampa Bay system, including the Gulf Coast League Devil Rays and the Hudson Valley Renegades. He began with seven hits in 13 at-bats and hardly has slowed since.
"I'm not really thinking about impressing anybody or wondering if I'll move up someday," Kastelic said. "To me, baseball is still fun. If they pay me, that's great. But I'd be playing somewhere even if they weren't. The battle of the game is what I enjoy. The battle between pitcher and hitter."
Kastelic has grown accustomed to winning a large share of battles. He hit .424 with 70 RBI as a senior at Texas Tech and was a Collegiate Baseball
first-team All-America selection.
Despite his success in college, Kastelic realizes he is not considered a can't-miss prospect. The Rays selected him in the 24th round of the draft.
"They sign guys based on potential, not numbers. They're looking for bat speed, your size, your arm strength. All I've done is get my foot in the door. Now I have to keep producing."
HERE AND THERE: As part of the RBI program (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities), the Rays host a clinic at 10 a.m. today at Belmont Heights Little League Field in Tampa. Community-development director Orestes Destrade and players and coaches from the Gulf Coast League team will take part. About 50 players will be invited to participate in the instructional league, which usually starts in mid-September. Youngsters from Audley Evans Recreational Center will be the Devil Rays' guest at the GCL game against the Astros Monday at Al Lang.
IN CONTROL: It was a memorable _ and wild _ GCL debut for Pablo Ortega.
The 19-year-old from Mexico was the first pitcher in the Rays' first game June 19, and he drew hoots from the crowd when he began with six straight balls. Ortega walked the first two batters he faced in that 10-1 loss.
Since then? Ortega has walked three batters in 53 innings. He is 2-5 but has a 1.52 ERA.
_ JOHN ROMANO