Former Cubs pitcher and minor league coach Frank Castillo died Sunday in Bartlett Lake near Phoenix, his family announced. He was 44.
The 13-year major league veteran drowned while swimming in the lake.
“It was shocking,” said Brian McRae, his former Cubs teammate. “You don’t expect to see your teammates’ name on the bottom scroll of ESPN saying he drowned at 44 years old. Frank was a quiet guy, didn’t say a whole lot. I hung out with him a lot, so I knew him at a different level than some others. He just went about his business and got the most out his ability, spent parts of 13 years in the big leagues and had some success — a good dude and a good teammate.”
Castillo was the third pitcher from the ’97 Cubs to suffer a tragic death. Kevin Foster died after a six-month bout with renal cell carcinoma in 2008, and Geremi Gonzalez was struck by lightning, also in 2008.
Cubs manager Dale Sveum, a teammate of Castillo in the minors, said he was saddened by the news.
“Obviously it was a bad accident at a lake probably close to my house,” Sveum said. “He lived right over the hill to me. Great guy and he was a great teammate when I played with him. It was an unfortunate accident.”
Castillo had a career record of 82-104, with a 4.56 ERA. His biggest moment as a Cub came on Sept. 25, 1995, when he was one pitch away from becoming the first Cub in 23 years to throw a no-hitter. Harry Caray was going wild in the Cubs TV booth, and his former wife, Tracy, was constantly shown in the stands cheering him on.
Castillo had two strikes on Cardinals outfielder Bernard Gilkey with two outs in the ninth of a 7-0 win when Gikley lined a high fastball to right in front of a diving Sammy Sosa to spoil the no-hit bid. The ball rolled past Sosa to the wall for a triple, leaving Castillo with a magnificent one-hit effort that earned several standing ovations from the crowd of about 10,000.
“It was one of those pitches that as soon as I threw it, I wanted it back,” Castillo said. “Sammy made a great effort. He almost made it.”
Mark Grace gave Castillo the ball, saying: “I saw his face on the mound. I almost started to cry. He came so close.”
Castillo’s family released a statement to El Paso TV station KVIA calling Castillo “a wonderful son, terrific brother, and an extraordinary father to his two beautiful girls. Everyone who knew Frank loved Frank. We are devastated by this loss. It is impossible to express in words the level of sadness we feel due to this tragedy. All of those who counted Frank as a personal friend, and to all those wonderful fans who cheered for him during his major league career, we genuinely appreciate your prayers and kind words during this extremely difficult time.”