Philadelphia Phillies' Nick Castellanos celebrates in the dugout after hitting a three-run home run during the second inning of a baseball game against the Chicago Cubs, Wednesday, June 28, 2023, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Matt Marton)

If you can say nothing else about the Phillies, they are interesting.

After struggling out of the gate to a 25-32 start, the Phillies went 23-9 over their last 34 games and head into the All-Star break just a half-game out of the 3rd and final wild card spot. 

A lot of good things happened in the season’s first three months, and a lot of really annoying things happened too. Perhaps the very best thing to happen was Nick Castellanos punching his hand out from beneath last season’s grave and reaching out into the open air.

There’s no way to sugarcoat the struggles Castellanos endured with the 2022 Phillies, his first after signing a five-year contract. He had his worst season at the plate, argued with members of the media, and has openly talked about his troubles balancing home and work life. 

This year, he’s been their best player and, more to the point, has allowed fans to get to know him. And it has been an absolute treat.

Last week, he talked about wanting to take more of a vocal leadership role in the absence of Rhys Hoskins, who was lost in spring training for the season with a torn ACL. He’s spoken about his desire to be more present for his oldest son, Liam, who left his little league All-Star team during a tournament to join his dad in Seattle for the Midsummer Classic.

And like all good dads, he’s showing how hands on he is when it comes to being a family man.

He also has very important things to say about popular culture.

And it seems he’s really settled into being a Philadelphian. 

It’s amazing how fast things can change. In one year, he went from being an unhappy, unproductive, disappointing player to a happy, productive, All-Star — and a true delight to watch. 

A Castellanos bounce-back season was among the most important things that needed to happen for the Phillies to be a contender, and there’s no doubt this team would be struggling like the Mets, Cardinals, and Padres if he hadn’t turned things around.

Nick Castellanos, my very favorite thing from an otherwise up-and-down first half.

John Stolnis grew up in Delco as a rabid fan of all Philadelphia sports, but the Phillies have always held a special place in his heart, particularly those disappointing Juan Samuel-led teams of the late...