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All-County baseball: Luis Cabrera excels in new land

Posted on Saturday, August 5, 2017 at 8:56 am

Luis Cabrera developed into an outstanding high school catcher at Gateway High. Photo/Martin Maddock

By Rick Pedone
Sports Editor
“What’s up, baby?”
That was the extent of Luis Cabrera’s knowledge of the English language when he moved from Cuba to Kissimmee six years ago.
“Yeah, that’s all I knew,” Cabrera recalled with a chuckle.
Now, he speaks English like it’s his native language.
And, just as important, his baseball skills have grown like his vocabulary.
Cabrera, for the past three years the anchor of the Panthers defense as the team’s starting catcher, grew into a supremely skilled player who helped Gateway reach the regional playoffs three years in a row.
This season might have been his best. He batted .346, drove in 20 runs and threw out 14 of 18 base runners.
“Luis had a fantastic season, absolutely he was our best player,” Gateway Coach Jim Moran said. “The kid will do anything it takes to win the game, and he’s a great teammate.”
Cabrera, the Osceola News-Gazette Baseball Player of the Year, said that baseball was the key to his successful transition to living in the USA.
“Ever since I first got here, I played baseball. First it was with a club team where I lived, in Buenaventura Lakes,” he said.
Cabrera, who graduated in May, was brought to the U.S. by his father, who had previously immigrated. The family includes his grandmother and stepmother.
The transition wasn’t easy, he said.
“The kids on my (club) team all were Hispanic, but they all spoke English, and it was different for me. At first I hated it, I wanted to go back,” he said. “But, after a couple of months, it started to get better.”
He said he learned English by memorizing phrases.
“That’s all I did, I would repeat what someone said. Like when someone sneezed said, ‘God bless you,’ I would memorize that. I didn’t know what it meant, but I would memorize it. I did that with everything I heard,” he said.
Cabrera came to the U.S. with a solid background in baseball in part because the island nation is baseball-crazed, and also because his stepfather in Cuba was involved with the nation’s youth baseball program.
Cabrera recalled how difficult it was to find equipment to play pick-up games in Cuba.
“We’d go to the playground and we had no idea what we were going to play. If we found an old, half-deflated soccer ball, we played soccer. If we could find a tree branch and something to hit with it, we’d play baseball. That’s how it was,” he said. “The only toy I had was a wooden stick that I put bottle cap wheels on.”
He said growing up with so few possessions makes him appreciate what is available to everyone in the U.S. He thinks it also has made him more mature than the average American teenager.
“You have to be a little more creative and use your imagination more than most of the kids growing up here,” he said. “I think it’s helped me.”
He said playing for Moran at Gateway was a blessing.
“Really, ever since the first day I set foot on the baseball field here, I’ve learned so much,” he said.
Actually, the first thing he had to learn is what a grade point average is, because his 1.8 GPA during his freshman year was not good enough to participate in high school athletics.
“I didn’t even know what a GPA was,” he said. “At that time I wasn’t making good decisions and I wasn’t hanging out with the best people.”
But, he was placed in a program at the high school to improve his academic skills and he flourished.
“At the next tryouts, there was like 10 of us there, and after Coach Moran watched me for a few minutes, he said, ‘You’re staying here.’ I was playing in a game that same day, and it’s been that way ever since,” he said.
Moran said that his catcher has the skills to play professionally.
“Let me tell you, this kid is the real deal,” said Moran. “His arm is like a rocket, he’s smart and he’s a competitor.”
Cabrera earned a baseball grant to Eastern Florida State University in Melbourne, where he will catch. He plans to study crime scene technology.
He said many people helped him as he struggled to learn a new way of life, and one of the most important is the Gateway baseball coach.
“Coach Moran, I love the guy. He made us a family. That’s how I think of our team. Sometimes you don’t always do what you are supposed to and you hear about it, but you know that our coaches are trying to help us,” he said.
He can play almost any position on a baseball diamond, but he said that catcher is his favorite.
“Probably because I’m kind of bossy,” he said.
Cabrera should earn his American citizenship next year, when he turns 18. Then he will begin the process of bringing his mother and sister, still in Cuba, to the United States.
“That’s my dream. I want to help them the same way that my dad helped me,” he said.

All-County team

Player of the Year: Luis Cabrera (GHS)
All-county team: Gateway: Bryan Carruyo, Jose Montoyo. Harmony: Cole Emmons, Jackson Nezuh. St. Cloud: Darren Friedman, Derek Serrano, J. Earl Waters. Celebration: Adams Torres, Luis Rodriguez. Osceola: Josh Pahlad, Jorge Ramirez, Giancarlos Rios, Kevin Silva. Liberty: Issac Tayes. Heritage Christian: Andrew Fernandez.