Baseball: UL MLB Draft prospect Hayden Cantrelle shares love for the game with a father who also pla
Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, June 7, 2020
One is a highly regarded prospect in the 2020 Major League Baseball Draft, which opens Wednesday and concludes Thursday.
The other was a college ball player himself.
For UL junior shortstop Hayden Cantrelle and his father Kevin Cantrelle, who played in the outfield for the Ragin’ Cajuns, what happens on the diamond is a shared love.
But when the two talk, the subject of conversation cuts much deeper than putouts and plate production.
And that’s what may be at the core of maturity seemingly far beyond his years for Cantrelle, a Teurlings Catholic High product who is ranked as 2020’s No. 118 prospect according to MLBPipeline.com but who also is a projected second-rounder according to D1Baseball.com.
UL shortstop Hayden Cantrelle, a 2020 MLB Draft prospect, rounds the bases after homering against Louisiana Tech last February. (Photo: James Mays/Special to the Advertiser)
“He doesn’t get rattled a whole lot,” said Kevin Cantrelle, also an ex-UL baseball television analyst.
“I think as a young person, a lot of players – and I know I was like this – sometimes you can get rattled when you engage with adults, and you don’t always know the right thing to say.
“He doesn’t really think about 'saying the right thing,'” Cantrelle added. “I think he speaks from his heart, and from the education he’s put in, in and of itself, over time.”
Hayden, his old man says, “kind of keeps things in perspective.”
“But he’s a 20-year-old kid,” Kevin Cantrelle said shortly before the 2020 season opened in February, “and as much as he knows about baseball there’s still obviously a whole lot left for him to learn about everything in life.
“That’s my job as a dad, is to make sure he’s got his head on straight. … Those are the conversations, quite honestly, that Hayden and I have. They’re not really about baseball. They’re just about life in general.”
For this father and son, however, two are intrinsically tied.
STUDENT OF THE GAME
Hayden Cantrelle chose to go to UL even after the New York Yankees selected him out of Teurlings, which he helped lead to state championships in 2016 and ’17, in the 40th and final round of the 2017 MLB Draft.
Kevin Cantrelle played for the Cajuns in the mid-to-late 1990s, following in his footsteps of Hayden’s uncle Lee Cantrelle.
So when the two do start talking baseball, Kevin’s voice comes with credibility and Hayden – who was barely beyond 10 years old when his mother, Heather Geisler, passed away – is mostly all ears.
“I feel like for me to be deflective of what my dad’s advice is would be very naïve,” said Hayden Cantrelle, a first team All-Sun Belt Conference shortstop.
“We like to talk about ball. But most of our conversations aren’t even about ball.
“I think he leaves it a lot up to me to go and have fun,” Cantrelle added, “and I think his perspective is when I’ve gone out there and had fun playing my game is when I’ve been playing the best.”
The chats, though, do have to start somewhere.
And with Hayden going here, there and everywhere chasing the dream, including the past two summers spent playing in Massachusetts for the Falmouth Commodores of the prestigious Cape Cod League, opportunities for the two to sit and watch a game together have been few and far between the older Kevin’s “kid” has gotten.
MLB Draft prospect Hayden Cantrelle, left, had his father Kevin, right, by his side when he signed with UL coming out of Teurlings Catholic High. (Photo: Submitted photo)
But back when Kevin Cantrelle was part of the TV crew calling select Cajun games, Hayden got an insider’s look at how preparation pays.
“He saw me on television,” Kevin Cantrelle said. “He used to come to the games with me.
“He’s been around baseball a lot. He’s a student of it. … He spends his time watching videos and analyzing baseball players – successful baseball players, successful baseball teams – and watches the way players interact.”
Now Hayden is the one in front of the camera, starring in self-produced YouTube videos.
A day at Fenway Park taking cuts in the cage in front of scouts, along with his Cape Cod League teammates. A day in the life of a summer leaguer for Falmouth. A day on the road with the Cajuns.
Cantrelle – “5Guy” to his 10,000-plus YouTube channel subscribers, a nod to his uniform number – takes viewers behind the curtain, sharing insight on those experiences and more with candor and detail.
But from Kevin, the insight passed along to his son is more about what happens in the head than on the infield, in the locker room or on the team bus.
“Really, it’s about mental preparation,” Kevin Cantrelle said.
“And he’s become so good at it – much more so than I was as a player – that we really don’t talk about that much.”
When they do, though, Hayden Cantrelle listens.
“A lot of things we talk about, or that I talk to him about,” Kevin Cantrelle said, “are sort of things that make him think about making sure that he’s in the right frame of mind, if that makes sense.
“You know, believing that can succeed and being confident that you can succeed is more than half the battle. It’s maybe all the battle, honestly.
“You can probably stand on your head and allow the bat to get to the hitting zone and make contact with the ball,” Cantrelle added. “But do you believe you can do it? That’s the question.”
'I'M A BASEBALL PLAYER'
Not all of the answers come easy for the younger Cantrelle, who was stumped when asked what his late mother would have thought if the draft call indeed comes as expected this week.
“It’s hard to tell, because she doesn’t know this version of me,” he said. “She doesn’t know ‘the college baseball player’ of me.
“But I’m sure she’d be excited that I’m doing something I want to do – nothing I was ever forced to do. That’s what she was about. She was about following something you believed in.”
Cantrelle, also a high school football quarterback, reflects on the fact he won’t have Heather to share in whatever happens during the draft.
“It’s a moment I wish I had that I won’t have,” he said.
“But I still will be blessed and fortunate enough to share it with people that I know care about and love me too.”
Like his father, Kevin, and his stepmom, Jessica Cantrelle, who know what their son has been through during the past year has proven trying indeed.
UL shortstop Hayden Cantrelle turns a double play during a February game against Louisiana Tech on M.L. "Tigue" Moore Field at Russo Park. (Photo: James Mays/Special to the Advertiser)
Early last July, Tony Robichaux – UL’s head coach for 25 seasons, including the ones when Kevin Cantrelle played while with the Cajuns – passed away 10 days after suffering a heart attack.
The shortstop for UL’s final two Robichaux-coach teams: Hayden Cantrelle, who learned lessons about how to handle uncertainty and expected turns of events from the man who mentored both father and son.
So when the 2020 season was cut short in mid-March due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic that has killed more than 100,000 nationwide, Hayden Cantrelle was equipped to handle the cruel twist to his pivotal junior season.
He found ways to work out and add good weight.
He found places to hit, even when they should have been shut, and develop his swing.
He found ways to pass the time and grow even while there have been no games to play, and wasn’t rattled nearly as much as one might suspect.
“I’m a baseball player,” said Cantrelle, whose knowledge of the game’s history parallels his passion for playing it.
From the random items he put in his back pocket and superstitiously refused to take out while riding a hot hitting streak one season to knowing right away when the name randomly came up one night that U.L. Washington, a shortstop from the 1970s and '80s who usually had a toothpick tucked between his lips, played for the Kansas City Royals, Cantrelle’s appreciation for the national pastime is pure.
“Adjusting to things that aren’t normal – it’s kind of what we’re used to doing,” he said. “You face different pitchers every day. You play in bad weather. You play sick.
“It’s been weird – I can’t lift where I normally lift, I can’t hit where I normally hit – but it’s really given me time to focus on some of the other things.”
Cantrelle also was mentally equipped to accept the fact that the MLB Draft, also because of the coronavirus crisis that’s had sports on hold the past few months, was trimmed from 1,217 picks and 40 rounds in 2019 to just five rounds and 160 selections this year.
How that impacts his draft stock remains to be seen, so instead of worrying about he’s simply continued to toil as if nothing is different.
“It’s impossible to tell,” Cantrelle said. “I can only handle the circumstance that’s in front of me.
“That doesn’t change what the preparation needs to be or how I think of myself as a player.”
Which is to say with confidence. Just like his father taught.