BIG CORNISLAND – Cheslor Cuthbert, 17, was born to play baseball. Literally.
Years before the Corn Islander was born, his father Luis, a local baseball coach and lobster fisherman,
was already dreaming of baseball greatness in the family. He had sired three daughters and was determined to keep trying until he got a boy.
“All the guys and my friends tell me, ‘You going to kill the lady trying to get a boy. And I say, ‘Even if it’s a dozen, we must get a boy’,” Mr. Cuthbert told The Nica Times during a recent interview on Big Corn Island, 50 miles off Nicaragua’s southern Caribbean coast.
When Cheslor was finally born in 1992, Mr. Cuthbert’s first thoughts were of baseball.
“When I walked in [to the hospital room], the nurse laugh because I didn’t even say hi to my wife. I walked in and take the little boy and played with his hands,” Mr. Cuthbert said with a thick Creole accent.
When his wife finally awoke, the nurse told her about the odd visit by the father. “My wife say, ‘That’s because you don’t know him, all he think about is baseball and he wanted to see if his hands were big enough to be a baseball player,” Mr. Cuthbert said with a laugh.
From that day on, Mr. Cuthbert, a former amateur catcher, started planning his son’s baseball career. He gave Cheslor his first glove, bat and ball for his second birthday, and started grooming him for a career catching line drives rather than lobsters.
“I had a dream he was going to play – his uncle could throw 90 (miles per hour) when he was 16,” Mr. Cuthbert said. “I didn’t know if (Cheslor) would go professional, but it was something I was wishing for.”
So when Cheslor – still a relative unknown due to his youth and remote upbringing on Corn Island – landed a whopping $1.5 million signing bonus for inking a minor league contract with the Kansas City Royals last year at age 16, it didn’t come as a huge surprise to his father. Indeed, if asked about Cheslor’s unlikely road to signing with the Royals, Mr. Cuthbert will happily provide vivid, pitch count details of every key at-bat his son had in the early years of youth ball.
But for those less familiar with the specifics of Cheslor’s little league career, his 2009 signing made him a bit of an overnight sensation in both Managua and abroad. His name was suddenly included among top Latino baseball prospects, and he managed to dazzle Kansas City sportswriters by trekking up to the Royals’ Kauffman Stadium and putting on a major-league hitting display, launching several homeruns into the left-field bleachers.
Cheslor’s signing bonus was the largest ever awarded by the Kansas City Royals and the largest ever received by a Nicaraguan prospect.
Though the young Nicaraguan infielder is not expected to make “The Show” for another five or six years, he’s already considered one of the team’s top prospects and figures to play an important role in the long-term rebuilding project of a consistently uncompetitive baseball club.
A Father’s Support
Mr. Cuthbert was always determined to help his son become the best player he could, despite the obstacles he faced growing up on CornIsland.
When Mr. Cuthbert would come in from the fishing boat each week, he would coach his son on the finer points of hitting and fielding. He cleared an area in the backyard to throw the ball around. And when that space became too small, he built a little league baseball field behind the municipal stadium.
Cheslor played in pickup games against local campesinos until he turned nine. Then Mr. Cuthbert organized a little league so his son could play organized ball against kids his own age.
“I got all the little boys together and we got a little team,” Mr. Cuthbert said. “I cleared the field for him to play on. I did all the work because if I don’t do that, he’s not going to play.”
While Cheslor learned to hit and field by playing against the other kids, he polished his mechanics by practicing alone in his house.
Each day after school, Cheslor wouldpractice his swing by hitting a ball hung from a cord in his bedroom. And he learned the footwork of a shortstop by throwing and fielding the ball off his bedroom wall, then shuffling through the narrow doorway to throw the ball off the adjacent wall to mimic turning a double play.
“He practiced batting so much he tore up the zinc roof. He destroyed the upstairs playing baseball,” Mr. Cuthbert said.
When he wasn’t working on his swing or his glovework, Cheslor was running to get in shape.
“I told him, if you want to play baseball, I will always try to help you. But you have to pay me by running. So every morning he get up and go running,” Mr. Cuthbert said. (As recently as three weeks ago, when Cheslor left CornIsland to report to the Royals’ instructional camp in Arizona, the young ball player could be seen jogging every morning on the hot sands of Long Beach.)
The hard work and dedication started paying off at an early age. Cheslor was voted the best shortstop in a Caribbean coast tournament at age 11, hit four home runs in a doubleheader, took M.V.P. honors in a national tournament at age 13, and hit a bottom-of-ninth, pinch-hit homer to put Nicaragua ahead of the United States in his first international tournament at age 14.
That’s when the major-league scouts started calling.
After being scouted hard by the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Royals swept up Cheslor on July 2, 2009, thanks to the $1.5-million sweetener. Despite his age, the strapping 6’1’’ Nicaraguan player who idolizes Yankees third baseman Alex Rodríguez is considered today’s top Nicaraguan baseball prospect, and a good bet to someday become the 12th Nicaraguan player to make the major leagues.
Depending on how soon he gets the call up, he could also become the youngest. “I feel like he’s really ready,” his father says. Nicaragua and Kansas City hope he’s right.