If you are in the local sports media for an extended amount of time, this is bound to happen. In some way you cover an athlete from high school to retirement. It happened to me again last weekend when Michael Cuddyer announced he was hanging up his cleats and calling it a career. Cuddyer joins other local professionals Alonzo Mourning, Allen Iverson, Joe Smith and several more whom I first reported on as high school students and then they rode off into the sunset after a long and successful career.
I first met Michael Cuddyer in 1997 when he was in high school at Great Bridge. When we first heard about Michael, we were not sure how to pronounce his last name. You want to get it right but there was a little confusion on our part. He set the record straight the first time I met him, but I made the mistake of calling him Mike and he quickly let me know it was and always will be Michael.
My first impression of this young player was his great smile, his confidence and that he seemed wise beyond his young age. His interview was very mature for a 17-year-old kid.
A year after being selected in the first round of the Major League Draft, I met with Michael and his father Henry at Grand Slam in Virginia Beach. He was nice enough to let me take a few swings while I was there. I noticed that Michael had learned a lot his first season in professional ball but he was still not ready for the Major Leagues.
A couple of years after that meeting, I met with Michael and a few of his friends at a special pep rally at Great Bridge High School. His special friends included David Wright along with BJ and Justin Upton. Justin was only a sophomore in high school at the time, but soon would join Cuddyer, Wright and BJ as a first round pick. Being selected in the first round is an amazing accomplishment, but Justin topped his good friends by being the first player selected in 2005.
Years later, those same players along with Ryan Zimmerman and Mark Reynolds took part in the Home Run Derby to raise funds at Grassfield High School. There was a lot of power in that lineup, but it was Michael who took top honors.
Michael once signed a baseball in front of me and I noticed how meticulously he signed his name on the ball. It was perfect and unlike many autographs from professional athletes, you could actually read his name. I asked him why that was important to him, Michael told me that he was taught that if he was going to take the time to sign a ball, that the person should be able to read who it was from.
I once did an interview with Michael in the players tunnel at Nationals Park. Michael was busy. He was between batting practice and the start of the game, but he knew this interview would be shared with the viewers in his hometown.
Later in his career Michael agreed to meet with me on several occasions prior to the start of spring training. We would meet at the batting cage in Chesapeake. Michael would hit and get his training in and at some point sit down for an interview. His playing career overlapped the steroid era in baseball and he shared his views on this touchy subject. It was common to see his son Casey and father Henry in the next cage over working on Casey’s swing. You could tell that being a father and spending time away from his family was beginning to take a toll on him.
Despite the demands of being a professional baseball player, Michael always handled himself with respect, class and in a professional manner. He stayed true to his beliefs as a ball player and to let his all-out style of play speak for itself. He always made time for the media and young players. In a world desperately needing role models, Michael Cuddyer is the definition of baseball player. A players player we can all be proud of.
Congratulations on a great career Michael Cuddyer. Thanks for the time and thanks for showing us all how it’s supposed to be done.