“We Believe.”
That is the battle cry of one of the more successful high school baseball programs in South Texas — the Robstown Cotton Pickers. It’s also the mantra longtime baseball coach Steve Castro instilled in not only the school’s proud baseball program, but in the entire closely-knit community.
Even today, years after Castro left coaching, “We Believe” is still stitched on the back of the Cotton Pickers’ baseball caps.
“A lot of times, we would end up playing teams with guys a lot bigger, stronger and faster than we were,” said current Robstown baseball coach Elias Vasquez, who played for Castro between 1987 and 1989. “Still, the whole time, he had us believing in ourselves. He would say ‘if you believe, then you will achieve.’”
Castro died Sunday of a heart attack.
He was remembered by the Robstown community at a candle-light vigil held in the school’s baseball field Tuesday night. Countless people wearing red and white Robstown t-shirts and Cotton Picker baseball caps filled the baseball park. A large black and white photo of the old baseball coach greeted everyone at the entrance.
Castro was a native of Robstown and coached at Robstown High School from 1975 to 2010. He headed up the Robstown baseball program from 1983 to 2010. In that time, he turned the Cotton Pickers into one of the most dominate high school programs in South Texas.
His record at Robstown included more than 600 wins, 24 playoff appearances, five trips to the state tournament and back-to-back state championships in 1991 and 1992.
Castro retired from Robstown after the 2010 season because of health concerns following open-heart surgery in 2009 and after being diagnosed with diabetes. His last coaching stint had him as an assistant at John Paul II under former Moody head coach Steve Castillo.
In 2014, Castro was inducted into the Texas High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame. At the time, he was only the fifth Hispanic coach in the hall.
Vasquez was one of the countless people at the vigil. He said Castro loved Robstown and did whatever he could to better the community.
“He put Robstown baseball on the map,” Vasquez said. “It was an insurmountable task for anyone, but he did it. He left behind some big shoes. They aren’t even shoes that I can say I will ever fill. The only thing I can do is try and keep the traditional alive. You know, he inspired a lot of young men and women here in Robstown.”
Alice and Robstown stopped playing regularly a few years ago when the Cotton Pickers were moved down in classification, but before that the two were fierce rivals on the diamond. Former Alice baseball coach Victor Escamilla, who left Alice after this past season for an assistant coaching spot at San Antonio Reagan, said he can recall many battles against the Castro-led Cotton Pickers and how the old coach used to get under the skin of his opponents.
“Coach Castro was a fierce competitor on the field,” Escamilla said. “He would often intimidate umpires and opposing teams with his proximity to home plate throughout the game.”
However, off the field, Escamilla remembers Castro as a gentleman.
“Off the field, he was a humble and honest man,” he said. “All coaches enjoyed being in his company during he offseason. South Texas baseball will miss Steve Castro.”
While at John Paul II, one-time Alice Coyote Robert Molina had a chance to learn from Castro through his senior season there. On his Facebook page following news of Castro’s death, Molina shared some of his memories.
“I'll never forget all those good times taking fungo (infield practice) at third base with you ‘boss,’ especially when you'd give us the infamous ‘la calle’ sign (hit it to the street). I can still hear you cheering me on at the plate from third base,” Molina wrote. “I will forever cherish those baseball moments while being coached by this legendary mentor. May you rest in peace my dear friend.”