It's the life he's dreamed of all these years. Traveling from city to city, going to bed at 4 in the morning, waking up at noon … and playing baseball every day.
Jake Cave hopes to be doing that for a living in the very near future, but for now he's loving life as a Peninsula Pilot. It could be another six weeks before anything happens with the New York Yankees, who last month drafted him in the sixth round. But the last three weeks have served as a glimpse.
"I'm using this to get prepared for minor-league life, because I know this is a lot like the minor leagues," Cave said. "At the same time, I'm looking to win a championship, too. I'm getting along with my teammates and it's really competitive.
"I like it out here. I've always liked using wooden bats, so that's cool. And I'm seeing good pitching every day. I haven't seen a bad pitcher yet."
Cave, the Peninsula District and Daily Press Player of the Year at Kecoughtan, has had little trouble adjusting. Going into Friday night's game at Thomasville (N.C.), Cave was leading the Pilots in batting average (.400) and on-base percentage (.493).
Of the 18 games he's played, he had at least two hits seven times. Even on nights he wasn't supposed to play, Cave has produced. Wednesday night in the Outer Banks, he came on as a pinch hitter in the 13th inning and doubled down the left field line. Ryan Huck's single drove him home with the winning run.
"He's phenomenal," Pilots coach Hank Morgan said. "He has a more continuous motor than any player I've ever been around. The same qualities that are there in (former Pilots) Ryan Zimmerman and Deck McGuire are certainly there in Jake. He's a natural, a special talent."
At Hampton Christian and then Kecoughtan, things came pretty easy. As a senior, Cave batted .609 with 16 extra-base hits in 23 games. It got to the point where he was once intentionally walked with first and second already occupied.
Cave faced good pitching in the Peninsula District — Menchville's Deshorn Lake, Woodside's Brett Mays, Warwick's Brandon Vick and Denbigh's Aaron Myers are all Division I signees — but not on an every-day basis. Now, baseball is more of a challenge.
Cave, who signed with LSU last fall, is hitting the ball, but he's struck out 16 times in 72 plate appearances. So while he's hitting .545 when putting the ball in play, 44 percent of his outs are coming on strikeouts.
"I think about three-quarters of them are against lefties," said Cave, who bats from the left side. "I've never been great hitting off lefties. I'm getting jammed on pitches that are like 83 (miles per hour) from lefties, but a righty is throwing 90 and I'm turning on it. It's definitely a mental thing right now.
"I've always heard that the ones who make it are the ones who adjust to failure. Coming out here, I know I'm not going to get a hit every time. I'll strike out. That's what I'm getting used to."
After drafting Cave as an outfielder, the Yankees asked Morgan to limit him to no more than two innings a week on the mound. Going into Friday night, Cave had faced only two batters and worked one-third of an inning all season.
As for what comes next — the Yankees or LSU — Cave is on hold. He wants to sign with the Yankees, who took him 209th overall in the First-Year Player Draft, but that could take a while. Of New York's first seven selections, only shortstop Dante Bichette (51st overall) has signed.
Both sides have until Aug. 15 to get something done. Cave won't discuss how much money he's after, but as a rough estimate consider the Yankees signed last year's sixth-round pick to a reported $300,000 bonus.
"I still keep in contact with them," Cave said. "They like me playing out here against good-caliber competition with wood. I don't think they want to rush anything.
"We were down in Asheboro (June 22), and I hadn't heard from them in a while. Their area (scout) was there, and he came up and was like, 'Yeah, man, I was just in the area.' I think I got two hits that game against a pretty good lefty."
For now, Cave just wants to play ball. He comes out every day to a stadium he grew up in — his father, Bryan, coaches the Apprentice School. And being the most prominent local on the team, Cave is suddenly a crowd favorite.
"I hear cheers when I come up to bat," he said. "And I'm thinking, 'Wow, that's different.' Everybody hated the way I played in high school. I'm not looking for everybody to like me, but it's cool to go out there and have some fans."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times