Nick Castellanos emerging as Tigers' cheerful leader

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Detroit — Nick Castellanos is different this year.

Not just a different hitter, but also a different person. He's come out of his shell, on and off the field.

"I think it's coming out more as the more and more I feel comfortable in the big leagues," Castellanos said. "I've always been a guy that has been super pumped up, and I don't know. I guess it's just coming out more since I feel more comfortable."

His comfortability at the plate is obvious.

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He's batting .348/.378/.606, and has been the Tigers' most dangerous hitter, with his eighth homer of the season helping the Tigers to a 10-8 victory over the Minnesota Twins on Monday night.

But if you look closer, you can see him growing as a leader, too. Or, at least a cheerleader.

Check out the top step of the Tigers' dugout next time you get a chance. Odds are, there you'll see Castellanos, hat off, hair ruffled, shirt slightly unbuttoned, eager to start clapping at any sign of good fortune for the Tigers.

Tigers' Nick Castellanos, right, and Cameron Maybin congratulate Jarrod Saltalamacchia after they all score on a double by Jose Iglesias in the first inning to give the Tigers a 6-0 lead.

It takes him back to his high school days at Archbishop McCarthy in Florida, where he played for coach Alex Fernandez, former big-league pitcher for the Chicago White Sox and Florida Marlins.

"When we were in high school, oh my God, it was ridiculous," Castellanos said. "The antics that went on in my high school were ridiculous, to say the least.

"We had a chant for everything, we had like different signs for everything for every situation. Say what you want, but my high school is (in the) running for its sixth state title in the last seven years right now."

Maybe there'll be some Tigers chanting in the not so distant future?

"Awww," said Castellanos, "we're trying!"

Castellanos isn't really into answering questions about why he's a better hitter this year. While fans may have doubted his potential last year or the year before, clearly Castellanos never did, and neither did the Tigers brass, who had faith in the 44th overall pick from 2010.

Two things are clear, though. He's been more aggressive, taking advantage of first-pitch fastballs. And he's really attacked the breaking ball with authority.

His homers have been huge, too. Of the eight, all have coming in close games, with one tying the game and three putting his team ahead. Half have come in the seventh inning or later, as Monday's did.

Castellanos, still just 24, made some social-media buzz earlier this season, when he showed off the, umm, interesting, tank top covered with rubber duckies during a postgame interview on Fox Sports Detroit. He bought it on a dare during a shopping trip with  teammates, and immediately started wearing it during every game.

"Ducks on the pond," he called it. That, though, was when Detroit was really rolling, but Castellanos still has it hanging up, and he still wears it every day. To heck with superstition.

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"At the end of the day, it's really comfortable," Castellanos said. "I'm not really a superstitious guy. I try to stay away from that as much as possible, because superstitions in this game can end up taking over your life."

He likened it to having  OCD.

Castellanos probably won't win a batting title this year, and he probably won't lead the Tigers in RBIs and homers, as he does right now.

There will be valleys to go with so many early season peaks, but he's not worried about that, at least not as much as it might have worn on him even just last year. It's all part of the growth of Castellanos.

"Success and failure, it's all temporary," Castellanos said. "So, you enjoy the success and you learn from your failure, and you keep moving forward regardless.

"Because the game doesn't know what you did yesterday."

Twitter: @tonypaul1984