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Cabrera: Baseball ace bringing the heat

By Calvin Makelky
On March 20, 2014

Just as Canada is synonymous with hockey, the Dominican Republic is with baseball. Luckily for the Utah State club baseball team, it has a Dominican on its side and his name is Sixto Cabrera.

Growing up in the Dominican Republic — or the D.R., as some call it — kids all over the country live and breathe baseball.

“There is no way around it: You play baseball,” Cabrera said. “Everyone around there has played baseball.”

Cabrera was no exception. He started playing the game at age six.

“I think you’re born with a glove and a bat,” Cabrera said.

Baseball is not just a mere sport in the Dominican Republic, but a way to make ends meet for baseball players’ families.

“In the D.R. it is not like America,” he said. “It is a third-world country, so there are not many ways to get money and provide for your family.”

Due to his love of the game that was instilled in him, Cabrera to wanted play baseball and obtain an education in America. However, Utah State wasn’t even on his radar at the time.

“I knew USU did not have a NCAA (baseball) team,” he said.

Cabrera struggled to obtain a baseball scholarship in the U.S. because of the influx of Dominican talent coming to the U.S.

“In the end I was like, ‘If I just get an academic scholarship, I would be OK with that,’” Cabrera said.

This is where USU entered the picture. The Dominican Republic has had a partnership with USU since 2000 that awards students from the D.R. with a full academic scholarship to attend USU.

“I applied and got accepted, and here I am,” Cabrera said.

Despite his desire to play baseball, the dream of playing college ball still seemed uncertain. Cabrera said he did not know if USU even had a baseball team.

One day during his freshman year he spotted something that grabbed his attention.

“I saw one of those tryout banners in the TSC and I decided to try out,” Cabrera said.

Cabrera tried out and made the team as a pitcher.

“First impressions were I thought he had a lot of ability, but he was a little bit raw and a bit undeveloped and had a huge amount of potential if he was willing to work hard,” head coach Norm Doyle said.

Despite being from a foreign country, the toughest transition for him was common with all freshmen.

“He was coming from a place where he had always been one of the main stars on the team, and now he was coming to a team that had a lot of guys that were really good and even better than him at the time,” Doyle said.

With Cabrera discouraged early on, Doyle sat him down and told him he had a ton of talent and he wasn’t quite ready to step in and do everything.

“To his credit, he worked hard and he understood, listened to what I was telling him,” Doyle said. “He never once complained. He just did what was asked, and he has been a great addition to the team ever since.”

The following year, 2012, was the year it all clicked for the Aggie baseball team. USU made it the NCBA College World Series, and Cabrera played a key role all season as the team’s No. 3 starting pitcher.

With the team needing a win against No. 2 Texas Tech to make the championship game, Cabrera was given the nod for the start. He then responded with a clutch performance where he surrendered just one run in six innings of work, and the Aggies went on to win in a 16-inning thriller. They would win the World Series a game later against Colorado State.

“His biggest strength is his confidence. We tease him about having the ‘Dominican Swag,’” Doyle said.

With a two-seam fastball reaching the upper 80s in velocity and an impressive assortment of breaking balls, Cabrera also possesses the nasty “stuff” to back up that swag.

Majoring in electrical engineering and hoping to attend grad school, Cabrera is also a stand-up guy off the diamond.

As an example, Doyle recounted an insightful story.

“That 2012 year, he was living in the dorms and he had to move out of the dorms two weeks before we ended up making the World Series, so he had no place to live,” he said.

With an extra bedroom in his house, Doyle placed his trust in Cabrera and offered him a place to stay for two weeks. Cabrera accepted his offer. Doyle had no problems with Cabrera while he stayed with him, and it shows what the “family” concept in sports is really about.

Cabrera, now a senior at USU, is one of the leading pitchers on this year’s staff, and with conference play starting in less than a week, both Doyle and Cabrera expect success this season.

“I think he is going to have a great year, and he is going to be a really big piece of any success we have this year,” Doyle stated.

“We expect to win,” Cabrera said on his expectations for the 2014 season. “I think we can go to nationals.”

Whether or not they make that goal, Cabrera has found a new home, nearly 3,000 miles from where it all started.

-- cmakelky@gmail.com
Twitter: @makelky

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