NORTH AUGUSTA — Standing behind third base surrounded by thousands of Augusta GreenJackets faithful waiting with angst, Jolbert Cabrera looks on as slugger Heliot Ramos attempts to be the game’s savior in extra innings.
Before Ramos focuses on the next pitch thrown by Columbia Fireflies reliever Yeizo Campos, Cabrera, the GreenJackets’ manager, yells to Ramos, “Keep your front side close so you can stay on the pitch longer.”
Ramos, who took Cabrera's advice, hit a single into left field to bring home third baseman Trevor Abrams for a walk-off 2-1 victory in the bottom of the 10th inning at SRP Park on Friday.
Cabrera is a big believer of the impact of in-game adjustments.
“Baseball is so different from one game to the next,” Cabrera said before the game against the Fireflies. “The focus has to be there; you have to be able to make adjustments – in game adjustments. You have to get the guys to a point when they do it consistently. This will help them get to the big leagues faster.”
Cabrera, 45, learned the game at a very early age in Cartagena, Colombia. The first-year manager grew up with his mother, father, and brother. His family struggled financially at times, but there was always the will to stay busy and work hard – and baseball was always another avenue for that.
His mother, Josefina Ramirez, was a teacher and his father, Holbert Cabrera, was a baseball manager in the Colombian Professional Baseball League. His father’s involvement in baseball inspired Cabrera to start little league baseball at the age of 5.
While his father was a baseball guru, it was his mother who was instrumental in his baseball development.
“Actually, it was my mom who really pushed us,” Cabrera said. “She was that person who was always there to take us to practice. My dad was always on the move trying to get a better job.”
Cabrera is now passing some of that wisdom on to his players.
“I just listen to him and pay attention to him – do what I have to do,” Ramos said. “I was thinking that I needed to stay relaxed and put the ball in play. They (coaches) say it in different ways but they all try to say the same thing.”
As Cabrera grew older, he participated in high school sports, becoming an all-state athlete in baseball, basketball and track at Comfenalco High School in Colombia, where seven athletes went on to make the big leagues, according to Cabrera.
After graduating from high school in 1989, Ramos signed his first minor league contract with a signing bonus of $20,000 with the Montreal Expos at the age of 17 in 1990. Though he was playing against minor league competition, Cabrera said he was a little advanced for the competition thanks to his mother and father always pushing him.
Cabrera went on to play in the majors, including stints with the Cleveland Indians (1998-2002), Los Angeles Dodgers (2002-2003), Seattle Mariners (2004) and the Cincinnati Reds (2008). Cabrera amassed 18 home runs and 157 RBI with a .257 batting average as a second and third baseman and an outfielder in his professional career.
Stats, though, don’t tell every detail, including the defensive part of the game. Cabrera, however, said he learned a lot from fellow teammate Roberto Alomar, who played with Cabrera on the Cleveland Indians.
“On the offensive part of the game, he’s got quite a few things that people aren’t even focusing on,” he said. “These are little things that help me as a hitter.”
On defense, Cabrera said former Cleveland Indian Omar Vizquel played a vital role in teaching him the tricks of the trade, and thanks to this advice, only committed 23 errors in over 600 games. Aside from those two players, he said he picked the brains of players of all positions. According to Cabrera, he played in over 80 games at every position except pitcher and catcher.
After his playing career ended in Mexico in 2012, Cabrera was hired as a hitting coach for the Cincinnati Reds before accepting the same role for the San Francisco Giants in 2016. In 2017 Cabrera managed the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes, the Giants' Class A Short Season affiliate.
As Cabrera develops GreenJackets players into professional players in his first season, he continues to do his best to emulate his former major league managers Tony La Russa and Dusty Baker.
He uses these same techniques during the course of every practice and game as GreenJackets’ manager, and some of the time, his managing leads to walk-off victories.
Following the walk-off hit, Ramos is bombarded by his teammates, and Cabrera hugs him for a job well done.