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Alex Rodriguez was the American League's Most Valuable Player in 2003 for the Texas Rangers.

CASTRO VALLEY

THE DAY after Alex Rodriguez's disillusioning steroids admission, local top baseball prospect Jason Castro was at Canyon Middle School speaking to a group of about 200 youngsters about the importance of education, the rewards of hard work and the dangers of poor associations.

He was talking to the same kinds of kids, presumably, whom A-Rod now says he wants to advise and help now that he's rediscovered honesty, accountability and his conscience.

Sorry, Alex, but you've had your chance and you blew it. Please leave it to the young guys now, OK? If the sanctity of Major League Baseball is to be restored, it'll be the next generation of players, not the ever-growing cast of tarnished stars, that does it.

The key question now: Will that next generation of ballplayers embrace an obligation to help clean up the game and make sure it stays that way?

"I think so," said Castro, a Castro Valley native and a one-time star Canyon student-athlete. "I think you're already starting to see it. You saw it in the World Series with a team like Tampa Bay and young guys (such as) David Price and Evan Longoria. Almost every team has a core of young guys like that, and it seems like things are transitioning back to more of the pure form of what baseball was before the steroid era."


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Castro, a 21-year-old left-handed hitting catcher whose stock rose dramatically following his junior season at Stanford last year, hopes to be part of that new PED-free generation of major leaguers soon. The top pick of the Houston Astros and the 10th overall pick in the June amateur draft, he reports to spring training in Kissimmee, Fla., today. It's his goal to start the year at Class A Lancaster in the California League after playing in the short-season A League last year in Troy, N.Y.

Just the small taste of pro ball Castro got late last summer opened his eyes about the specter of steroids in the game, even in the minor leagues.

"Now that I'm playing professional baseball, when I talk to guys who've played for a while, I realize (PED use) is still pretty prevalent," he said. "Unfortunately, players are still feeling the need to take these drugs if they're not on par with the competition they're facing. It's even happening at the college level."

Castro is encouraged by the fact that minor league testing has become even more stringent than that at the majors over the past few years. He also is brightened that players beginning their careers believe the playing field is a lot more level against the PED abusers than it was four or five years ago.

"It does definitely make it a little more possible for those guys who might not have made it because of the guys who were taking steroids back then," he said. "Obviously, if the guy in front of you is doing something that ... helps him be a better player and you're not willing to do it, it's not a healthy situation. Something had to be done."

Castro said he believes it is a good time for young players to be coming into the game, not simply because testing is getting tougher but also because attitudes are changing among the workforce itself. This is the real key to eradicating the PED pariahs. The players have to police themselves and get tough about identifying and penalizing the steroid abusers.

"I've never believed in it, because it's definitely cheating," Castro said. "As hard as I work and as much time as I put in, I don't think that it's fair that I have to compete against someone else who's taking the short route and doing things in kind of a lazy, cheap way."

Castro does have empathy for the fallen stars, correctly assessing that baseball condoned the steroid era to fill its coffers, then let the players take the rap when the issue heated up. This guy has spent three years at Stanford in pursuit of a degree in business and economic sociology, so he's no dummy.

But he also admitted he felt disappointed and a bit betrayed by Rodriguez's disclosures, particularly when a Canyon student asked him to name some of his favorite players.

"That's an interesting question, actually, because one of my favorite players was Alex Rodriguez," he answered."

Just as interesting, a good number of the middle schoolers booed when Rodriguez's name was mentioned. Maybe they already get it, as Castro seems to do. It's a ray of hope in a sad, sordid time for the game.

Contact Carl Steward at csteward@bayareanewsgroup.com.