LIMA — One second the Locos’ Mark Castelblanco was sitting in the back seat of a friend’s car.
The next moment, the car was flipping over down a highway in Texas and Castelblanco was airborne.
When he finally landed, he could barely move.
Castelblanco had broken seven vertebras in his back and had five broken ribs.
That happened last August, three days before the start of the semester at Clarendon College (Amarillo, Texas).
When Castelblanco thinks back on last Aug. 24, he knows he’s very fortunate.
“Ten minutes before the accident happened we had stopped to get food,” he said. “So I think the driver got distracted eating and then she lost control of the car. The car flipped seven times. I got ejected and flew out 100 meters from the car.’’
Castelblanco spent four days in the hospital. When he was released, he began taking online classes at Clarendon.
“I’m very lucky to be alive,” Castelblanco said. “I know God is with me.’’
Then, came months of grueling therapy.
At the time, he wasn’t sure he’d ever play baseball again.
“When the accident happened, I thought everything (in baseball) was done for me,” Castelblanco said. “I was in really bad shape. But God helped me and put his hand on me.
“The coach from Clarendon helped me a lot and the people at the school helped transport me to my therapy. I’m really thankful for those people.’’
He not only returned to play in the spring, he had a monster year.
Castelblanco, Clarendon’s center fielder, hit .454 with 25 home runs and 93 RBI. He also stole 20 bases.
His average ranked 10th in junior colleges, while he ranked third in the nation in home runs. He ranked second in RBI and sixth in on-base percentage at .550.
“By October I was able to jog a little bit,” he said. “But when I went home to Panama in December, I started getting healthy. I came back in really good shape.’’
He was named to the all-region team and was the conference’s player of the year.
“Mark is a terrific player and a great human, too,” Locos coach Jared Gaynor said.
“When I first heard about him and saw his stats, I honestly didn’t believe it. I said there was no way this guy batted .450 with 25 home runs in 50-some games. And he stole 20 bases, just to throw that in there.
“He’s going to be real fun to watch. He’s not a huge guy. He’s maybe 5-8 and strong, but he knows how to play. And he’s very humble and goes about his business the right way.’’
Two years before his break-out season, the 5-foot-8 Castelblanco was in his hometown of Chiriqui, Panama.
“I started playing baseball when I was 5 years old,” Castelblanco said. “I played soccer three years, but baseball was my favorite game. I loved playing baseball.”
He quickly became nationally known and was invited to play on the junior national team.
“I live in the middle of the city, around buildings and it’s really loud,” Castelblanco said. “Where I live, I’m about 15 minutes from the ballfield and 25 minutes from the beach.’’
Before he left Panama, he was named to the Panama National Baseball Team.
But at the time, he was also looking to attend college in the United States.
“I had a friend who was playing in New Mexico at Luna Community College,” he said. “He told me his coach really wanted me to come there. So I came here (to the US).”
As a freshman, Castelblanco hit .380 with 13 home runs and 54 RBI at Luna CC in New Mexico.
In the same junior college league was Clarendon, and he transferred there last year as a sophomore.
After he was fully recovered from his accident this spring, he told his coach at Clarendon he was ready to go.
“I started a little bit slow, with everything, my hitting and my running, but I think the work I did with my hitting coach helped me have a really good season,” Castelblanco said.
But 25 home runs?
“The most home runs I ever hit was 15,” Castelblanco said. “I never expected to hit 25 home runs with 93 RBI. I never thought about that. But I think God helped me, my team supported me and the coaches helped me.’’
During the season, his college coach asked him if he wanted to go play for the Lima Locos this summer. His coach said it would be a good opportunity.
Castelblanco agreed to come and was the first player from out of town to arrive in Lima.
“When I was in Panama and I was 17 years old, I always wanted to come here to get a scholarship to study in the USA,’’ he said. “So that day when my friend told me about the community college I was so happy to come here.
“It’s been a really good decision so far. I’m happy to be here (in the US) and happy to come here to play for the Lima Locos. I know it’ll be a really good experience for me.”
Reach The Lima News sports department at 567-242-0451.
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