Castellanos grew up in South Florida as a Marlins fan, idolizing Miguel Cabrera. And now they are teammates.
Nicholas spent his first two years of high school at American Heritage High School in South Florida, where he played with 2008 Royals first-round pick Eric Hosmer and 2012 Red Sox first-rounder Deven Marrero on a team that won the 2008 national title.
He then played his final two seasons at Archbishop McCarthy High in Southwest Ranches, Florida, which won the 2011 national championship the year after he left.
In 2010, Nick's senior year at Archbishop McCarthy, he committed to the University of Miami on a baseball scholarship.
That season, Nicholas hit .542 with six home runs, 41 RBIs, 34 runs scored and 22 stolen bases. He was honored as the Gatorade Florida Baseball Player of the Year and competed with the 18-and-Under squad for USA Baseball that won a gold medal at the Pan American Junior Championship in Venezuela in the fall of 2009.
Nicholas' mother's family is from Detroit. Her Dad, Leonard Beard, is a retired Detroit firefighter. A Michigander at heart, he passed on his Tigers ties to his daughter, Castellanos' mother. He is also clearly a Michigander in voice, sounding like a one-man cheering section.
"That's my grandfather," Castellanos said. "He sounds like 10 people."
In the springs of both 2011 and 2012, the Baseball America Prospect Handbook rated Castellanos as the second-best prospect in the Tigers' farm system. They moved Nick up to the #1 prospect in the Tigers organization in the springs of both 2013 and 2014.
In August 2013, Nick and his fiancée Vanessa Hernandez had a son.
Nicholas has family members who worked for Chrysler and General Motors in Michigan. He spent summers as a kid along the lake shores of Michigan before baseball became a year-round pursuit. (Beck - mlb.com 2/26/2014)
Michelle Castellanos looked up at the Tiger statues near the entrance to Comerica Park and cried. She did a lot of that on Opening Day. She thought she was ready for it, getting the chance to watch her oldest son, Nick, take the field in the big leagues to start a season. He was realizing the dream he told her about when he was 5 years old. All the years of picking up bats around the house, those mornings where she'd shake her head because young Nick would sleep with a bat, all came back to her.
But it's also Detroit's Opening Day. And she grew up a Detroiter, in a family that has generations of Detroiters. She brought her family up to Michigan nearly every summer for vacation. And they had several generations there to watch Nick Castellanos starting at third base for the Tigers.
It became a whole lot bigger than his dream. As the Castellanos walked into Comerica Park on that chilly April morning, it was much more than just Nick's day. "It was extraordinary, I have to tell you," she said. "I was very excited. You have anticipation, you have anxiety, you have fear, you have joy, and you have it all tied into a moment. And you just hope that moment can go well.
"I think on one level it would've happened for me if he was on any team. But for it to be my hometown. My family has been Tiger fans 50, 60 years, some of them. To get all together, wearing Tigers shirts, this just doesn't happen. My dad is a Detroit firefighter. My family is ingrained in that city."
It took an awful lot to realize that dream. And as Castellanos fully appreciates, it wouldn't have happened without her support. "She's been there from Day 1," he said, "from when I played Tee-ball in Miami Lakes Optimists to when I made my Opening Day in the big leagues, taking me all over God's green earth to play in all these tournaments and stuff. Without the help of her and the help of my dad, I wouldn't be here today."
If a parent's job is supporting a child's dream, the Castellanos family did not have to wait long for him to find his direction. Nick wasn't even in school yet when he told his mom he wanted to be a big league ballplayer. He was younger than that when she realized how much he loved the game.
"The kid's first word was 'ball.' I kid you not," she said in a phone conversation earlier this week. "And he just had such an affinity for the game. We had many other things around him to play, but he was always drawn to that. He slept with a bat. I always remembered that." (Beck - mlb.com - 5/9/2014)
Nicholas' younger brother, Ryan, was interested in baseball too. The family garage became a makeshift batting cage, with the family cars parked outside. When they moved, they tore up part of their new backyard to put in a cage.
When they weren't going to games or shuttling the kids to practice, they were throwing batting practice, at least at the start. Nick's mother's days as a BP tosser ended once Nick smacked a comebacker that left a mark. That also might have been the time Michelle and Jorge Castellanos realized they had a talent on their hands.
"I had the seams of the baseball stuck in the side of my gut," she said. "I think that was probably in junior high." She was tough, and not just taking line drives. She was the disciplinarian in the family, Nick recalls, and he took the brunt of it when his grades didn't keep up with his athletic pursuits.
"I would say a bad report card was the worst trouble I got into with my mom," he said. "A lot of yelling, a lot of stuff being taken away. Junior high, I got a little lackadaisical in school, just because I knew that nothing really mattered until high school. So seventh grade, I got into a little trouble with my parents with grades. By high school, I was pretty good." (5/9/2014)
Nicholas' mother is a teacher. She has spent her career in education, including 14 years in the classroom. She knew Nick's talent, but she also knew he needed a backup plan. When they agreed to let Nick follow his dreams, it came with conditions.
"I'm an educator by trade," she said, "so I was very involved in academics. My role was always that the kids look out for school. Yeah, it was a privilege and an honor to do some of the things that he did, and there are responsibilities that go with that.
"It was hard to balance them out, then when you realize that he does have a gift. You realize that, and then it became a balancing act. He had to stay focused on finishing his tasks first."
That became a regular message she delivered as the scouting reports rolled in and the publicity followed. Nick had a gift, one that could carry him to his dreams, but he had a responsibility that goes with it—to himself, to others, to the community. As long as he lived up to his responsibilities, his parents were always there on the other end. If he didn't, Michelle would make sure he knew about it.
The way Nick carries himself reflects that, the discipline, the work ethic, the approach. When the Tigers drafted him with their first pick in 2010, Michelle watched her son make the difficult choice between two dreams, knowing what a college education would mean, but also knowing what her son becoming a Tiger would mean to her family back home.
The house is an empty nest for now, with Nick up in Detroit, Ryan playing college ball at the University of Illinois, and their younger sister Jackie heading off to college. (5/9/2014)
The Tigers have a history of making draft picks within the family as the rounds pile up. Rarely, however, does a family member have a chance to announce the pick.
When Detroit used its 25th-round selection on Nova Southeastern University righthander Ryan Castellanos, it decided to bring his brother into the draft room to make the call himself. Nick took a break from his preparations for that night's game against the Cubs to break the news. It was a cool moment for a family that already has built a lot of Tigers ties. "I know my mom is really excited," Nick said. "She's probably more happy than the day I got drafted, because I was supposed to get drafted. My brother, we really didn't know what was going to happen. "Her side of the family, including a retired Detroit firefighter, hails from Michigan."
Together, they've had a chance to watch Nick at Comerica Park on a regular basis over the past year and a half. Meanwhile, Ryan had been trying to build his pitching career, first at the University of Illinois for two seasons, then closer to their home at Nova Southeastern University (known for producing J.D. Martinez) in Fort Lauderdale. "He's only been pitching for three years, just out of his senior year [in high school]," Nick said. "He ended up getting a pretty decent scholarship to the University of Illinois.
He pitched there for two years, transferred, got a full ride at Nova Southeastern University, J.D.'s old college, got first-team All-Conference and was the ace of the staff, really. And only pitching three years, so he's still learning how to pitch himself, really. "He's still tinkering with his mechanics, so he can come to a professional organization and get really good hands-on coaching every day. Who knows how good he can be?"
Ryan Castellanos went 9-3 with a 3.23 ERA in 15 starts in 2015. "He throws a lot of strikes," Nick said. "One thing he's really good at is pounding the strike zone. He doesn't walk a lot of people. And other than that, he's still learning as a pitcher himself, because he's only pitched for three years since his senior year in high school." (Beck - mlb.com - 6/10/2015).
February 27, 2017: The Tigers announced Castellanos will now be going by his birth name, “Nicholas,” in all official ways, including when he is introduced to bat, listed on a scoresheet, or any other references.
"Just being around Nicholas, the intensity, I'm telling you, it's the same as being around J.D. Martinez," Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire said. "Those two, I don't know if they hung around together, but it's the same. It's the same drive. They both have this drive. It's pretty cool.
"Nick comes up to me about a lot of different things. We've had some good conversations. He's pretty fired up about this stuff, and that's kind of the way J.D. was. So he probably had a good mentor."
It wasn't quite that relationship. Still, the competitiveness and baseball instincts bear resemblance, even if Martinez and Castellanos take different routes to get there.
"On the surface it can be similar, but the way J.D. goes about baseball and the way I go about baseball are polar opposites," Castellanos said. "I haven't done one hitting drill since I've been here. J.D. does 17 a day."
Nevertheless, Castellanos will still gladly take the comparison. "He just got a $110 million contract and hit  homers after missing a month," Castellanos said. "Absolutely I'm going to take that compliment. He's a heck of a baseball player."
Their career paths share some common ground. Both grew up in South Florida and had lofty expectations as young hitters. While Martinez had to change organizations to find his identity as a hitter, going from Houston to Detroit, Castellanos is finding his with the team that drafted and developed him. (Beck - mlb.com - 3/2/2018)
In 2018, Nick won the Tiger of the Year Award, as the most valuable player on the team.
Nicholas had planned on taking his son to Six Flags over Texas during the Tigers' off-day in Arlington on August 1, 2019. Those plans changed when he received a tap on the shoulder and was summoned to Detroit manager Ron Gardenhire's office on July 31, 2019.
Castellanos had been traded to the Cubs and was needed in St. Louis. There was the matter of giving handshakes and hugs and saying goodbye to the only organization he had known since being drafted by the Tigers nine years prior. Beyond that, though, Castellanos had to deliver the news to his son, Liam, whose sixth birthday was August 1st.
"He was excited, but he didn't know why he was excited," Castellanos said with a laugh. "We didn't get exactly to go to Six Flags, but daddy got traded and everybody was excited. So, I think because everybody else was excited, he was excited."
And Castellanos was also at Busch Stadium, wearing a No. 6 jersey in honor of his son's big day. Castellanos stressed that he was willing to do whatever was asked of him by Cubs manager Joe Maddon.
"I couldn't be happier where I'm at right now," Castellanos said, "the position the team's in, the two months of baseball coming up and just doing absolutely anything that I can to help this squad win."
Castellanos was also informed that Six Flags Great America is about an hour's drive north of Chicago. "True," Castellanos said. (Bastian - mlb.com - 8/1/2019)
- Nickname: "ARTIST"—Castellanos enjoys painting and photography in his spare time and often signs his pieces as, simply, "Artist" when he's finished.