Rash throw could exact high price

If he is found guilty on two counts of felonious assault -- one with a deadly weapon and the other causing serious physical harm -- Julio Castillo could go to prison for 16 years.

Castillo, currently on trial in Dayton, Ohio, is a 22-year-old minor league pitcher in the Cubs' organization.

The deadly weapon was a baseball. And the case is unprecedented.

Not the potential prison time but the case, period.

Never has a professional baseball player been charged with a felony for hitting someone with a thrown ball, according to research of both the prosecution and defense.

Castillo was pitching for the Class A Peoria Chiefs last July when, during a 10-minute bench-clearing brawl, he threw the ball toward the Dayton Dragons' dugout to keep their players from rushing the field, Castillo's attorney said. Instead, the ball sailed high and struck a fan, Christopher McCarthy, 45, who was treated at a local hospital for a concussion and released.

There are countless other examples of baseballs being thrown into stands and hitting fans, intentionally or otherwise, and players were not charged. Often, there have been civil suits, as in the 1999 well-publicized incident involving Wichita State pitcher Ben Christensen.

Christensen beaned Evansville leadoff batter Anthony Molina, who was taking practice swings outside the batter's box. Molina was struck above the left eye, breaking bones and permanently damaging his vision. Both sides agreed to keep the settlement terms confidential.

Castillo reached a settlement with McCarthy, who testified that he had a throbbing headache for nine days and a recurrence of a panic attacks. According to sources involved with the case, Castillo, the Cubs and the Cincinnati Reds, parent club of the Dragons, contributed to the settlement, which was considerably less than the $250,000 for which McCarthy had initially asked. Sources also said McCarthy told the Cubs he would have been satisfied with a misdemeanor charge.

Castillo, who does not speak English, has a second-grade education. He is from the Dominican Republic and, because he was charged with a felony, once he returns there it is unlikely he will be able to obtain a visa to re-enter the United States, whether or not he's found guilty. Any hopes of a baseball career would be over.

According to all accounts, Castillo knows he did wrong and is repentant. He would have pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor. He was suspended for 60 days by the Midwest League (which also suspended and fined 15 players and both managers) and has not pitched for the Cubs since, though he has been allowed to practice.

Mike Loran, the Cubs' general counsel and senior vice president for community affairs, called the charge of assault with a deadly weapon "unique."

"He acknowledges he made a mistake," Loran said of Castillo, "but a felony conviction and the weight that carries with it is disproportionate for a 22-year-old whose hope is to play baseball."

Response to Castillo's actions was emotionally charged, and, in the case of some public Internet sites, racist.

Castillo waived his right to a jury trial and will let Judge Connie Price render a verdict.

In opening statements Tuesday, assistant Montgomery County prosecutor Jon Marshall said, "[Castillo] decided he was going to hurt someone, anyone. He had in his hand a hard, dense object, a baseball. He decided to hurl that baseball, that object, with great force."

Defense attorney Dennis Lieberman said his client threw the ball toward a fence in front of the dugout, an "inanimate object" to "scare away" the Dragons' players who were charging onto the field.

"He does it because he can't talk," said Lieberman. "He can't speak English. ... He wasn't throwing it at an individual."

There is video of the brawl that shows Castillo hurling the ball toward the stands. It does not show the ball hitting McCarthy. Nor does it show players coming out of the Dayton dugout wielding baseball bats, as was testified to by a fan in cross examination.

The Cubs said Castillo has a great arm. He may have had a future in the major leagues. And you can argue that he threw it away himself when he let loose with a baseball. But two counts of felonious assault for a 22-year-old kid who threw a baseball in anger?

Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.