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For Castillo, it's a title-filled winter




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Luis Castillo is running out of fingers for his championship rings. After winning the World Series last October, the Marlins second baseman returned to his native Dominican Republic, where he helped Licey win both the Dominican winter-league title and the Caribbean Series crown in Santo Domingo.


''It was very emotional playing at home,'' said Castillo, whose competition in the Caribbean Series included a Venezuelan team led by Marlins teammate Miguel Cabrera. ``The pressure of playing in the Dominican was different. The fans there are a lot more [animated].''


But Castillo left no doubt which championship was his favorite. ''The World Series is the most important,'' he said. ``The major leagues are the highest level of baseball. There are a lot of great players who have never played in a World Series.''


Marlins manager Jack McKeon isn't putting much stock in the fact most preseason publications have named the Philadelphia Phillies and Atlanta Braves as the teams to beat in the National League East, relegating the world champions to third place.


''Everybody's got their own opinion,'' McKeon said. ``I watched The Bachelor and The Bachelorette and my wife watches it and we pick the winner. Half the time she wins, half the time I win.


``So we're not experts at doing that, either. Some of these guys making these predictions, they have to look back and the end of the season and see that the majority's been wrong.''




With the addition of Hee Seop Choi, the Marlins have two Korean-born players in camp -- although pitcher Tommy Phelps, who spent the first six months of his life in Seoul while his father served in the military, says he really feels Korean.


''If somebody asked me where I'm from, I tell them Tampa,'' he said. ``That's where I spent my whole life.''


Phelps said he would like to return to Korea someday. With that in mind, he has asked Choi to teach him a word a day.


''I told him I need to learn my native tongue,'' said Phelps, who already has mastered an ny?ng (''hello'') and j?l ga (``goodbye'').




Josh Beckett pitches today for the first time since shutting out the Yankees in Game 6 of the World Series when he takes the mound against the Baltimore Orioles in the Grapefruit League opener in Fort Lauderdale at 1:05 p.m. He'll be followed by Matt Perisho, Chad Fox, Phelps and Mike Flannery. The Orioles will start Sidney Ponson.


The Marlins return to Jupiter on Friday for their home exhibition opener -- vs. Baltimore at 1:05. Brad Penny, Darren Oliver and Nate Bump are among those expected to pitch. National League Rookie of the Year Dontrelle Willis and left-hander Michael Tejera will pitch Saturday against the Cardinals, also at Jupiter.


Right-hander Justin Wayne looked sharp in setting down all six batters he faced in Wednesday's exhibition against the University of Miami, and for that he credits a winter trip to Puerto Rico, where he worked with minor-league pitching coordinator Dean Treanor.


''I'm progressing. That's why I went to Puerto Rico,'' said Wayne, who remains a front-office favorite despite struggling in short major-league trials each of the past two seasons. ``They want to see what I can do, not what I did last year.''


Although McKeon said he won't take Wednesday's game into account when evaluating who makes the team, he allowed that he's pulling for Wayne. The problem is there are no openings for starting pitchers in the Marlins' talented young rotation.


''You'd like to see him have a good spring and see what he can do. But he's a starting pitcher,'' McKeon said. ``You'd like to see him get on track and put up some good numbers and get back to what everybody thought he was going to be.''


Wayne, 24, said Treanor worked with him to correct some mechanical flaws that changed the arm angle of his delivery, but that was two months ago. So Wednesday's success, even if it was against a college team, was a confidence boost. ''I'm not even looking at their faces,'' he said of the Hurricanes. ``They're batters in the zone, and I'm looking at competing with them.''

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