Posts Tagged ‘Cito Culver’

Yankees draft pick Cito Culver overcame tragedy to reach professional baseball. (Photo courtesy ESPN)

NORWICH, Conn. — It wouldn’t be a stretch to believe Chris “Cito” Culver would fit in among the dozens of players depicted in the movie “Field of Dreams.”

Polite and smiling, Culver can’t believe he is living out his dream of playing professional baseball. In town this weekend with the Staten Island Yankees, Culver is a modern day Moonlight Graham.

It was so important for him to begin his career that he signed his first contract days after being drafted, a far cry from many of his peers.

There’s a certain warmth that he draws from the diamond, but when the topic changes from the game to what his family experienced two years ago, a sadness permeates his eyes.

Looking down for a second, Culver looks forward as he joins his teammates in their pre-game warm-ups and says, “It’s what keeps me going.”

Life hasn’t always been roses for New York’s first-round selection in June’s draft.

In March 2008, he woke up to find his father, Christopher, Sr., attempting to burn down the family home with him and his estranged wife inside. The house burned down but Cito, his two younger sisters and mother made it out alive. His father pleaded guilty to first-degree burglary, third-degree arson and first-degree criminal contempt, and is now serving a maximum nine-year sentence.

Fittingly, Culver says the biggest thing he’s learned over the first 42 games of his career is remaining positive.

“When you play every day, you’re going to have your good days and bad days, and you just have to learn to life with it, how to cope,” Culver said. “That’s something that’s big in this game because you’re not going to have a good day every day.”

When he’s on the field, however, the pain goes away.

Just a few days shy of his 18th birthday, Culver is as an unassuming baseball star in the making.

On the fourth pitch he sees in the batting cage, Culver slammed the offering high against the right field wall. There are no oohs and ahhs. Even with Yankees officials in attendance to watch their investment’s every move, Culver carries himself with the innocence of a child blissfully ignorant of the expectations placed at his feet.

From the moment the Yankees selected him, the switch-hitting shortstop has been anointed Derek Jeter’s heir apparent. The Yankees, he said, protect him from the pressure.

Growing up a Yankees fan in Rochester, N.Y., Culver even sounds like Jeter, his idol.

“It was really the highlight,” he said of being drafted by New York. “I’ve always wanted to be playing for the Yankees. It’s pretty much a dream come true for me.”

Staten Island’s hitting coach Ty Hawkins said Culver is still growing into the game.

“That’s one of the things, in the limited time of seeing him — his personality; he just seems like he really enjoys being here,” Hawkins said. “He doesn’t feel like he has to live up to any expectations. He just goes out and do what he can.”

Playing just his second game since being promoted to New York’s short-season team in Staten Island, N.Y., Culver hasn’t come down from the cloud he’s been on since June’s draft.

“It still doesn’t (seem real),” Culver said. “It still hasn’t sunk in. I just go out here playing every day. It’s really lost of fun.”

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