Cuban-Born Mayke Cabrera Determined

Mayke Cabrera -- that's the correct spelling of his first name although it's pronounced as the more conventional "Mike" -- was born in Havana but lives today in Miami. But, no, this is no story of a harrowing trip on an overcrowded raft or a leaky small boat. It is rather one of a player who came about his talent later than most but who is very much starting to make up for that.

Cabrera's family left Cuba when he was five years old for Panama not the U.S.. They simply flew out and didn't return. Three years later, just before his ninth birthday, they came to this country. Thus, he's been fully Americanized, speaking English with only a trace of an accent.

By his own admission, he wasn't much of a player in his youth. "I was a skinny kid," he notes. And he didn't impress the coaches when he tried to make the team at Savannah College. They promptly cut him.

Eventually, he made the team as a sub, then transferred to St. Thomas University in Miami for his senior season. That was rather inglorious as well for he came down with chicken pox. Needless to say, no pro clubs beckoned when he finished.

But about that time he began packing on some weight, particularly in the upper body. He felt good enough to attend some tryout camps but still no contract. He even went to the Dominican Republic for a workout at the Dodgers' Campo Las Palmas base. "Got into a game, got up twice and hit and triple," he recalled.

That didn't get him signed, either, although they had noticed him. Back in Miami, he came under the tutelage of Leo Posada, another Cuban expatriate who played big league ball, then coached hitters in the Dodger organization. Retired now, Leo works with young wanna-be's in the Miami area. He liked what he saw of Cabrera and recommended him to the Dodgers.

This spring, Mayke received a call telling him to be at Vero Beach on March 7 for the annual tryout camp, an event that attracts large numbers of whom few if any are ever signed. He and Leo made the trip to Dodgertown where he displayed his abilities. And of the over 100 in attendance, only he was signed.

He's a third baseman and has filled out to 6-2, 205. Because he's now 24, he was challenged quickly. "They had me with the Double-A team all spring. That was really throwing me into the fire."

No, he didn't make the Jacksonville roster but he is with Vero Beach, still a formidable place to begin a pro career. But he's playing -- mostly designated hitter since Andy LaRoche occupies third -- and has hit the ball solidly when given the opportunity. When called upon, he's demonstrated an intriguing left-handed stroke.

The odds are against his rising high in the game, of course. But he's beaten long odds to get here so who knows what will follow?

MINOR NOTES-- Cabrera is one of three recent additions to Dodger regular-season teams. Mike Neu is a righthander who has been in the Reds, Athletics and Marlins systems after being drafted out of the University of Miami in 1999. Last season He's been injured for most of the last two seasons, getting into one game in 2004 after not playing at all in 2003. He's currently with Las Vegas.

Todd Donovan is a center fielder picked up from the Padres for utility man Brett Dowdy and assigned to Jacksonville.

An eighth-round pick by San Diego in 1999, he hit .299 at Mobile last year where he stole 20 bases. He's swiped as many as 40 before and was told by the Dodgers that they wanted a leadoff man who can run. "So, I 'll get on any way I can and go, " he says. "Even if I'm thrown out 100 times, I'll still be trying." So far, it's worked well as he quickly jumped to the Southern League stolen base lead with four.

Neu is 27, Donovan, 26.