Apr. 18—TRAVERSE CITY — Raul Castillo’s 2 p.m. haircut appointment at The Hair Shack came with a big tip.
He didn’t even cut hair. It was a batting cage session courtesy of customer Paul Bonaccini, who treated Castillo, a longtime Traverse City barber, alongside family members and a lot of local baseball swag at the neighboring Elite Fitness North on Friday afternoon.
Bonaccini booked an appointment with Castillo Friday afternoon, ensuring he wouldn’t be cutting hair during his surprise, and walked the 85-year-old across the street to the gym.
Traverse City Central sophomore pitcher Josh Klug — a Louisville commit who can throw in the low 90s — volunteered to set the tee for Castillo.
Castillo, who frequently flaunts his Tigers fandom at The Hair Shack with a bat next to his seat he bought at Goodwill, says he grew up with baseball and loves it to this day.
And when you talk to him at the chair, which what inspired Bonaccini to organize the surprise for Castillo, it’s clear why.
“When I was a teenager, even before that in Mexico, I’d rather be playing ball than eat and sleep,” Castillo said. “It was in Laredo, it was hot. We used to go barefooted. I got to run from shade to shade.
“We never had uniforms, we never had a field with grass, it was just playing.”
His father, Manuel, who was from the Texas side of Laredo (the city borders U.S. and Mexico) was pretty good when he played. Per stories from his uncle, Castillo said Manuel was once offered a tryout for a major league farm team.
“He didn’t want to sign any papers,” Raul said, and ultimately his father declined to further pursue his playing career.
“I saw my dad play ball; he used to come sometimes late at night, the pitcher used to pitch him up because they used to play day-night games in the morning from 9 to 12,” Castillo said. “I could tell you it was unbearably hot … in Laredo. After 1:00, it was unbearable. 90-100 degrees. And dry.
“Even though he didn’t have the best swing, he hit the ball every time. He was the catcher. The pitcher used to come wake him up, he used to come pull him out ‘Oh, come on! We’ve got to go play ball!'”
Castillo and his family moved to Detroit at 16 in the 1950s. There he played on three teams until he was 21. To date, he maintains dual citizenship with the U.S. and Mexico.
“I was playing center field one day — and you know how it is — two guys going for the same fly ball,” Castillo said. “We collide and I broke my ankle, I slowed down quite a bit.”
When he moved to Traverse City, Castillo started cutting hair in 1975 at the former State Street Barbershop and worked there for 30 years. When Raul and his wife Pamela took ownership of it, they renamed it to the Hair Shack after it’s building small facade. The Hair Shack moved to its current location on South Garfield Avenue and has been there for the last 16 years.
“I’ve been going to Raul and his family since the 80s,” Bonaccini said. “It’s such a good family. Always helping immigrant workers with their haircuts and always been very generous to all. They’re just the nicest family.”
Castillo said it was a long time since he picked up a bat to actually swing at a ball before Friday.
He hit a few ground balls off the tee that made their way to the end of the tunnel. But when Klug stepped up to bat for a bit, Castillo and his nearby family turned wide-eyed.
“Wow. Look at this swing this guy’s got,” Castillo said. “That’s beautiful, man. … That’d be out of the park in Tiger town.”
And Castillo’s came away with a whole pile of gear, too.
Central, West, St. Francis and the Traverse City Pit Spitters each gave jerseys, shirts and hats to Castillo. He says he plans to hang him up in the barbershop as local decor.
Follow Andrew Rosenthal on Twitter @ByAndrewR