Daniel Cabrera’s high school baseball coach knew just how special his sophomore left-hander was long before this recent dominance on the mound.
Cabrera was about 3- or 4-years-old at the time.
John Curtis was playing Salmen, and Cabrera was standing near the foul line holding a skinny yellow bat.
Patriots coach Johnny Curtis picked up a piece of clay and hurled it in Cabrera’s direction.
The clay exploded.
“My brother (Jeff) and I looked at each other and said ‘Wow’,” recalled Johnny Curtis. “Right then and there you knew he had a gift of great hand-eye coordination. Of course, we didn’t know he would grow up and have such command of his pitches the way that he does. He has developed the gift.”
About a dozen years later, Cabrera, now a sophomore pitcher at Curtis, continues to impress.
His stat line the past five games has been nothing short of phenomenal as the Patriots head to Sulphur on Friday for the Class 3A semifinals.
He’s thrown 23 innings, allowing just four hits without giving up a run in his last five outings.
“I’m just hitting my stride,” Cabrera said. “I’m just doing my thing, and the defense is making plays. I don’t think they’ve made an error in the playoffs.”
They don’t get many chances to. He has 43 strikeouts during the stretch, including a 14-strikeout, complete game Sunday in the quarterfinals against North Vermilion.
The Patriots coaches haven’t decided yet if they will throw Cabrera in a semifinal game against Iowa (24-8) at 6 p.m. Friday or try to win without him and save him for the championship game Saturday against the Evangel Christian-Parkview Baptist winner.
“We feel like we have four or five guys we can win with,” Curtis said. “It will just be how we decide to go.”
Cabrera, who has committed to LSU, is the freshest pitcher in the bunch after resting at the beginning of the season.
He injured his elbow at the end of the regular season last year when he bumped it against his knee in a game against Brother Martin.
He didn’t pitch any during the postseason last year when the Patriots reached the title game and didn’t pitch his first game of this season until mid March.
“Even though the doctors thought it was minor, we decided to be cautious,” Curtis said.
That decision appears to be paying off as Cabrera continues to find his groove.
“When he’s on the bump, he’s a whole different guy,” outfielder Myles Washington said. “He is a monster and all business, and everybody’s energy goes up times a thousand.”
Shortstop Jacob Bordelon describes Cabrera as “goofy” off the field.
“But when he gets on that mound, you can’t even talk to him,” Bordelon said. “He gets in the zone.”
Sports runs in Cabrera’s veins.
His brother Lenny was a former standout swimmer at John Curtis and his sister Dawn starred in volleyball.
Dawn, the school’s volleyball coach, is married to Curtis, which means Cabrera plays for his coach/brother-in-law.
“We’ve had our run-ins of course, but I treat him like he is one of my own,” Curtis said. “He is your typical 16-year-old. He’s done what I have asked him to do and is a coachable guy.”
His main weapon is a changeup that gives batters fits, especially with a fastball in the upper 80s to go along with it.
“It’s funny because I’m always nervous before a game,” said Cabrera, who lists Cliff Lee and Clayton Kershaw as his favorite major league pitchers. “But once I get out there, I’m fine, and I don’t want to come out.”
Before he ever takes the mound, he has apregame ritual. He goes to Smoothie King and orders a muscle punch.
“With extra vitamins,” he said.
He also has to wear a three-quarter sleeve shirt under his jersey, and he has to throw with teammate Jay Curtis (the coach’s son).
And for extra luck, there’s the long lock of hair that sticks out from underneath the back of his cap. He’s been letting it grow it since October.
“If we win it all, I’ll trim it a little bit,” he said.
It would be Curtis’ first state baseball title since 2002, around the same time Cabrera swung that yellow bat and made that lasting first impression.