English colonizers established a foothold in what’s now southeastern Virginia in 1607. It would take another 390 years for baseball scouts to get fully invested in the vicinity as a source for riches.
Michael Cuddyer from Chesapeake, Va., was drafted ninth overall by the Twins in 1997. Ryan Zimmerman from Virginia Beach was drafted fourth by Washington in 2005. B.J. Upton from Norfolk was drafted second by Tampa Bay in 2002, and his brother Justin was drafted first by Arizona in 2005.
Marty O’Brien, a sportswriter for the Daily Press in Newport News, Va., said that run of top draft choices in a short period increased the area’s baseball profile.
All four signed out of high school. Cuddyer, Zimmerman and Justin Upton became standouts. B.J. had a handful of solid seasons, then fell off to the point that he started going by Melvin Jr.
“My dad told me about going to watch Cuddyer play in high school,’’ Jake Cave said. “I became a fan of his, knowing that he was from my home area. I followed his career, and now I’ve had a chance to meet him after coming to the Twins.’’
The area of Virginia that produced Jake Cave, a rookie outfielder who played his 23rd game with the Twins on Wednesday, and Cuddyer, an outfielder who played 1,139 of his 1,536 regular season games with the Twins, is a geographical wonderland.
There’s the Peninsula, with Newport News and Hampton as the major locales. Then, there’s the 3½-mile Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel to the south, where Norfolk, Virginia Beach and Chesapeake are located.
“We lived near the water, and I spent some time taking advantage of it, but it’s also a great place to learn to play baseball,’’ Cave said.
There was an example of that with the Peninsula Pilots, a travel team for 10-to-12-year-olds, early in 2000s. Three players from that team are now in big leagues: Chad Pinder, a utility player with Oakland; Kyle Crockett, a lefthanded pitcher with Cincinnati; and Cave with the Twins.
Cave had the advantage of a father, Bryan, a college coach who offers a splendid example that the lure of water can coexist splendidly with the landlocked game of baseball.
“My dad’s the baseball coach at the Apprentice School, the college that they have at the port in Newport News,’’ Jake said.
The Apprentice School is a four-year vocational school that trains students in the shipbuilding business while also offering an athletic program. Bryan Cave has been the head baseball coach since 1990. Jake Cave was headed elsewhere to college — LSU — after batting .609 as a senior in 2011 at Kecoughtan High in Hampton.
Cave was taken in the sixth round by the Yankees. He played in a collegiate league and didn’t sign until the Aug. 15 deadline. He received an $825,000 signing bonus in the good old days of a free-spending draft.
He reached base in his second professional at-bat in the Gulf Coast League, tried to score, collided with the catcher and suffered a broken kneecap. He didn’t play again until 2013.
Cave had 19 home runs in his first four seasons in the minors [2013-16]. He worked to change his swing and hit 20 home runs in 2017. He was on the Yankees’ 40-player roster until mid-March, when the Yankees needed room for veteran infielder Neil Walker.
The Twins traded a low-level pitching prospect for him. He competed with veteran minor leaguer Ryan LaMarre to become a backup to Byron Buxton. And then the backups became the option, as Buxton was sick, injured, slumping and remains in Class AAA Rochester.
Cave debuted for the Twins on May 19 at Target Field and homered in his second at-bat. He was here for five days that time and six days in June. He came back on June 26, and LaMarre was released a week later.
Cave became Option A for Buxton. On Wednesday, he started for the 13th time in 16 games, had two hits (including a triple) and lifted his average to .299, with three home runs and 10 RBI in 67 at-bats.
“He has that uppercut and has to fill in some holes in the swing,’’ manager Paul Molitor said. “He’s an instinctual player. He reads the angles in the outfield. He looks like a big-league player.’’
Buxton has the same number of at-bats — 67 — at Rochester as Cave has had with the Twins. Buxton’s at .239, and he’ll be with the Twins eventually, if not sooner.
Cave smiled and said: “I can run. I can’t run like Byron. Nobody in baseball can. I’m just trying to help this team. We’re winning games on this homestand. That’s great.’’