Cade Hunter (Virginia Tech) with the Big Train.
Not everyone has the confidence to bet on themselves. Each year in the 40-round MLB Draft, thousands of the top baseball players across North America get a call that could potentially change their life.
One of those to receive that call during the 2019 Draft was Bethesda Big Train catcher Cade Hunter. Drafted by the Colorado Rockies in the 35th round, Hunter had a decision to make: stick with his original plans of playing college ball or go pro. Though difficult, this is a dream dilemma for numerous ballplayers across the nation.
For Hunter, it took a lot of hard work to earn that phone call. Unlike several eventual MLB draftees, the game did not come naturally to him. He did not get his first taste of travel baseball until he was 11, and even though he was playing travel, it was not in a league full of future top prospects.
"When I tried out (for travel baseball) I was put on the C team," Hunter explained. "There was an 'A,' 'B''and 'C' team and I was on the C team. That team went 0-21 on the season in seven tournaments."
Despite being put on the lowest ranked travel team possible and going winless, Hunter made a realization that summer important to his long term future in baseball.
"I started to love the game," he said. "It wasn't really about winning or competition; it was just enjoying the game."
With new motivation fueled by the love of the game, Hunter began to work harder to improve, saying that he "started getting after it a little bit and started practicing a little more."
Each of the next two summers, the dedication paid off. In his age 12 season, he was promoted to the "B" team, and in his age 13 season, he spent his first year on a regulation-sized diamond with the "A" team. During the process of finally making the "A" team, Hunter's main takeaway was seeing that "hard work pays off and it contributes (results) on the field."
After developing his game in travel ball, he moved onto Lenape High School in Medford, New Jersey. It did not take long for head baseball coach Phil Fiore to realize Hunter was going to be a game changer for his ball club.
"Cade started to open our eyes in his sophomore year," Fiore said. Though Hunter was behind a senior catcher on the team's depth chart, it did not stop Fiore from keeping the then-sophomore out of the lineup.
"He accepted the role of our team's designated hitter because he could hit," Coach Fiore said. He was impressed by the maturity shown by Hunter to adjust his role saying "We knew because of the maturity he showed in that situation, we were going to have a quality kid, a leader and a stud on the field."
Despite being in the DH role, Hunter continued to perfect his craft as a catcher "every day" according to Fiore. As a result, he was named the starting catcher his junior season. Hunter's first season behind the plate full time was a massive success. He was named all-conference and was selected to participate in the Carpenter's Cup which showcases the top high school baseball players in the Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware tri-state area.
With successful high school seasons under his belt, Division I colleges began to show great interest in the catcher from New Jersey. However, no school showed more interest than Virginia Tech, and it's safe to say the interest was mutual. With positive impressions made, Hunter signed his letter of intent with the Hokies on November 14, 2018.
Hunter selected Virginia Tech because of his potential to make an immediate impact. He is the lone catcher of the Hokies 2019 recruiting class, and in 2020 he is set to join a roster only returning one catcher in sophomore Carson Taylor (BT 2018). Thus, if Hunter puts together a big fall and impresses the coaching staff, there’s a chance he can find himself in the Hokies starting lineup as a true freshman.
Before he could head to Blacksburg, however, he still had a senior season at Lenape to play. Prior to the season, Hunter received arguably his biggest honor yet: Senior Captain. Fiore said despite being an incredible player on the field, something else stood out to him about the senior backstop.
"I think what stood out to me the most was Cade's attitude, work ethic, and ability to lead," Fiore said. "He is not the most vocal leader, but he leads by example both on and off the field. He took younger players under his wing and assisted the coaches by upholding our expectations of all the players."
With the title of senior captain, Hunter put together another dominant and was dubbed as the team's best hitter by Fiore. After a slow start to the season for the team, Lenape improved, and Hunter cited simply having fun as the reason.
"We just had a blast. It was kind of different because a lot of guys weren't going onto play college next year, so everyone was just trying to have a great senior season," he said. "When you're having fun, you play loose, and when you play loose, you get results."
As Hunter's high school days started coming to an end, and a summer in Bethesda followed by a move to Blacksburg in the fall loomed, a call from the pros came. The Colorado Rockies selected Hunter with the 1059th overall selection in the 2019 Draft. Though he called it an honor to get drafted, he knew he had to keep his commitment to Virginia Tech.
"I have a really good opportunity (at Virginia Tech) to make an impact right away," he said. "I'm the only catcher coming in my recruiting class"
With his mind made up to attend school in the fall, Hunter arrived in Bethesda on June 18 for his first taste of college baseball with the Big Train.
"I'm loving it (Bethesda) so far," Hunter said. "Started off a little slow just trying to fuel my way into it but now I'm seeing the ball real well and can't wait for the rest of the season."
One of the first pitchers Hunter caught for the Big Train this summer was Logan Barker (Liberty). In Barker's first game with Hunter behind the plate, he tossed four innings and struck out six without allowing an earned run against the Gaithersburg Giants on June 22. Barker came away impressed with his young battery mate.
"I liked him, he was very aggressive with pitch calling, he obviously has a little bit to figure out, but he's good."
This summer is just a start to what coach Fiore expects to be a very successful college career for Hunter.
"I think Cade is going to do well," Fiore said. "I can't predict the future, but I know that Virginia Tech is going to benefit from having a guy like Cade around. It may not be next year or the year after but I do see Cade competing to eventually be the guy for this Virginia Tech team."