Cabrera to close out Cal Poly career against hometown 'Bows this weekend

Cole Cabrera has thoroughly enjoyed the past four years, but he's ready for what lies ahead — whatever that may be.

But before the former All-Hawaii outfielder and 2017 Punahou School alumnus graduates from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo next month, one final matter of business remains on the diamond: a four-game series against his hometown team to close out the Big West baseball season.

Cal Poly will host the University of Hawaii in the final weekend of the conference schedule.

The Mustangs (27-25 overall, 17-19 Big West) and Rainbow Warriors (24-20, 16-20) open their series Friday at 2 p.m. Hawaii time. They will play a doubleheader Saturday, with the first game set to begin at 10 a.m., before concluding the set with a single game on Sunday at 10 a.m.

"Any time I play UH, it's a special feeling," said Cabrera, a redshirt junior centerfielder and one of four players who will be honored during Sunday's Senior Day festivities.

Cabrera grew up a "die-hard University of Hawaii baseball fan" and attended countless games at Les Murakami Stadium with his parents, Tim and Pamela.

"It's definitely the series that I circle on my calendar every year; it just means more," he added. "I know almost half the guys on the team, I follow what they do each and every week, as we compete in the same conference and it's just cool to get to play a lot of my former teammates and a lot of my good friends."

Cabrera, a four-year varsity player for the Buffanblu, developed deep ties to many current ‘Bows, including Matt Campos (Iolani '16), Matt Wong (Saint Louis '17), Lii Pontes (Kamehameha '18), Bubba Akana (Saint Francis '19) and Aaron Ujimori (Iolani '19) during their prep days in the Interscholastic League of Honolulu, as well as over the course of the pandemic last summer.

"I ran into a lot of them over quarantine," said Cabrera, who built a batting cage in the backyard of his family's Aina Haina home.

"Facilities were closed, parks were closed, so I actually built a batting cage in my backyard so that me and some of my close friends who were on the island at the time, they all came over to my house, we all hit and trained and tried to get better," explained Cabrera, who noted that they only used wood bats "to limit the noise for my neighbors."

He added that current-UH volunteer assistant and former Kaiser coach Kila Kaaihue was gracious with his time and knowledge over the extended break.

"He helped me a lot over the quarantine. We swung it often and he was a really big part of the whole quarantine experience so I'm real thankful we got to work together and I'm excited to see him as well," Cabrera said.

While he was home, Cabrera worked out "at least six days a week" and put on "10 to 15 pounds of muscle" as a result. The 5-foot-11 Cabrera went from 175 pounds to 185.

"I really used that offseason from April till however long it took until I came back to campus in September, I just tried to work as hard as I can and I transformed my body physically. It was just something that I thought would benefit my game," said Cabrera, who has played in 146 games over the course of his Cal Poly career and started 111 of them.

After mostly patrolling left field in his first three seasons, Cabrera took over as the starting centerfielder this year. He's made the transition a seamless one: in 80 chances, Cabrera has not committed an error.

"I've always been a centerfielder in high school and whatnot and so I think center comes naturally to me and I love being out there and roaming the outfield," said the right-handed Cabrera, who is batting .260 (44 for 169) with four home runs, eight doubles, 17 RBI and 37 runs scored.

He has walked 33 times and struck out 30 times and is 4 for 7 on stolen-base attempts. Cabrera has been hit by a pitch a team-leading 10 times and is credited with six sacrifices on the season.

As a team the Mustangs recorded series wins over Pac-12 members USC and UCLA, but won just one of their first seven Big West series (CSUN). At one point they lost nine of 10, including six straight and were swept at Cal State Bakersfield earlier this month.

Since then, however, it's been a different story. Cal Poly flipped the script with a sweep of Cal State Fullerton two weekends ago and took three of four from UC Davis last weekend after dropping the opening game of the series.

"As a team we have been decimated with injuries, but I think we've rebounded over this past month pretty well and we're trying to finish strong to end the season," Cabrera said. "It's been a lot of fun, there's been a lot of ups and downs but with this being my last year with some of my guys, we're just trying to enjoy every second of it, whether it be good or bad, but overall this whole year has been a good growth experience and we're just trying to finish strong for the 2021 campaign."

Cabrera attributes the team's recent hot streak to its focused practices.

"I think our practices these past three weeks have just been a lot more precise and more clean and I think we're carrying that practice environment into the games and I think a lot of people are finding their groove and stepping up at the plate and I also think from a pitching standpoint we've been having a lot of guys injured and guys are stepping up and giving us quality innings and I think we're just playing as a team," he said. "The pitching and defense are clicking on the same day and so that equals good days on the baseball field."

That was certainly true of the Fullerton series, when Cal Poly outscored the Titans, 37 to 5, over the course of the four-game set.

"The whole team was firing on all cylinders: pitching, defensively and our bats were super hot," said Cabrera, who hit a blistering .473 (9 for 19) in the series.

He collected six of those hits in Saturday's doubleheader, including a 5-for-6 effort with three runs scored in the first game.

"We were actually joking around the (batting) cage, just talking baseball and you know, I've never had a four-hit game in my life before and we were talking about that in the cage before and then like two hours later I produced my first five-hit game of my life and so it was kind of just a cool moment when you think about it," Cabrera reflected.

In Sunday's series finale against the Titans, Cabrera extended his hitting streak to nine games — unbeknownst to him.

"I actually didn't know that. I try not to look into the numbers too much, but I've just been trying to have as much fun as I can this past month and I'm glad that I've had a little success over that month," he said.

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While Cabrera is looking forward to this weekend's series against UH — and graduating next month — he can't help but feel a bit somber looking back on his four years in San Luis Obispo.

"I'm very proud to be graduating Cal Poly, but it's also a very sad time because all these memories are coming to an end and I've met some of my best friends here, I've made some of the most unbelievable memories I'll ever have here and baseball, too. I mean, I've had so many great teammates and experiences and memories and I'll always cherish that forever, but as one chapter closes, another one opens and so I'm just looking forward to getting to this weekend and we'll see what happens in the future," Cabrera said.

What exactly lies ahead for Cabrera is not yet known. He is weighing his options post-graduation, among them, graduate school. Cabrera is also eligible for July's Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, which is comprised of 20 rounds this year. Last year's draft was shortened to only five rounds after previously being 50 rounds.

"That impacted a lot of college baseball players' decisions to come back, including myself, but I would still love to play pro ball," said Cabrera, who was drafted out of high school by the Tampa Bay Rays in the 37th round (1,099th overall pick) in the 2017 MLB Draft.

"If pro ball comes around again, that'd be an opportunity I would love to get into, but at the same time, if that doesn't happen then I'm actually looking into other (collegiate) programs to get to graduate school actually and so maybe I can play another year elsewhere, but that's what my plan is right now," he detailed. "I'm graduating Cal Poly and I've had a great four years here."

Cabrera's major is a unique one: Recreation, parks and tourism administration with a concentration in recreation and sport management. He went into what exactly that entails.

"It incorporates a lot of the tourism, sport industry, wine industry — San Luis Obispo is known for its wine culture, we have a lot of vineyards here — but I concentrated on sport and recreation management and after graduation I don't know what my plans are going to be, but after baseball is done I'm going to become either involved in a sport organization or a college or university, where I would love to be a sport advisor or agent, so I still want to stay in the sports realm and that's kind of what sparked my interest into getting into this program here at Cal Poly," Cabrera explained.

He has grown quite fond of San Luis Obispo, or ‘SLO,' as locals to California's central coast refer to the town of 45,000 or so, located some 190 miles north of Los Angeles and 230 miles south of San Francisco.  

"It's basically a small, college town. You'll pass through it within two to five minutes and you won't really know that you drove through it," Cabrera quipped. "We got the beach, we got the mountains, we got the trails — it reminds me a lot of Hawaii — so I'm super glad I came here and got to experience Cal Poly SLO because San Luis Obispo is beautiful and I've enjoyed my time here so much."

Cabrera also enjoyed his time at Punahou, where he attended the sixth through 12th grades.

"Coming to Cal Poly was easily one of my best decisions of my life, another decision that was probably one of the best in my life was coming to Punahou. Not only did I meet first-class people from Punahou, but I made some of the best friends who I still connect with to this day," said Cabrera, who also competed in golf and both football and soccer in middle school.

As a junior in 2016, Cabrera earned All-Hawaii Second Team honors after he posted a .356 batting average and led the Buffanblu with 19 runs scored.

Punahou went 14-10 that season and qualified for the state tournament, where they went 3-1 and won the consolation title.

He added, "Being a student-athlete at Punahou, especially playing baseball, the Punahou baseball community is a family. All my best friends are still my teammates past and present and so just being able to compete with your best friends at Punahou."

While Cabrera fondly refers to the Punahou baseball program as his "second family," he is ultimately most grateful for his parents — the root of his vast support system.

"Probably my biggest influence had to have been my mom and dad," he said. "I mean, it's kind of just a cliché answer, but they're the ones that sacrificed all this time and money for me to go and kind of get the coaches' eyes and try to play in college and not even college and high school, just sacrificing those times to help me get better and just to help me be the best person I can and so I love them dearly and I wouldn't be here at Cal Poly or have done what I've done without them."

ESPN Honolulu will air all four games of this weekend's series between the Mustangs and ‘Bows on radio, while will carry a live stream.

Reach Kalani Takase at [email protected].

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