Just off the eastern coast of Nicaragua, in the Caribbean Sea, sits Isla del Maiz, or Corn Island.
It’s a land mass of just 3.9 square miles. Tiny, but with more than enough room to build a baseball field. It’s on the diamond there that Royals infielder Cheslor Cuthbert learned to play the game.
So far, he is the only player from Corn Island ever to learn it well enough to reach baseball’s highest level. But he hopes to help change that soon.
Cuthbert is the most recent of just 14 players from Nicaragua in major-league history, and the first from Corn Island, which — even when combined with its sister, Little Corn Island — has a population believed to be fewer than 7,500 people.
He is one of only five active players from Nicaragua who reached the major leagues, according to baseball-almanac.com.
“I know all of those guys,” Cuthbert said of pitcher Erasmo Ramirez of the Tampa Bay Rays; J.C. Ramirez, a former Diamondbacks and Phillies pitcher currently in the Reds system; free-agent infielder Everth Cabrera and free-agent pitcher Wilton Lopez.
“I follow them in the big leagues,” Cuthbert said. “It’d be fun to play with them too.”
But Cuthbert, who made his major-league debut with the Royals last season, never met or played against any of them until after he had signed with the Royals in 2009.
Cuthbert said he spent his entire life growing up on Corn Island and didn’t visit Managua, the capital city of Nicaragua, until he was almost 16. But it turned out to be a productive trip.
“I went to the capital to play some baseball there, and that’s when I got signed,” he said.
Now 23, Cuthbert is happy to see baseball finally taking off in his home country. For years, he said, the government’s lack of interest in building baseball fields kept the game from catching on, which is rare for a Latin American country.
But about five or six years ago, Cuthbert said, fields started being built, and the game has skyrocketed in popularity.
“All the young kids play baseball now,” Cuthbert said.
And he hopes that soon more of his countrymen will play in the majors.
“We’ve got a lot of young guys coming up that are really good, and you just have to wait and see what can happen because you never know,” Cuthbert said. “But I think soon we’re going to have a lot of good players from Nicaragua.”
To further that effort, Cuthbert returns home every offseason and works with the young ballplayers on Corn Island.
“I always go to the stadium to work with young kids because I like to motivate a lot of kids on the island,” Cuthbert said. “So that will help a lot more baseball players from the island come up.”
Cuthbert returns home for another reason, though. He misses it — especially the food.
“They cook different in America, so that’s the biggest thing right now,” Cuthbert said. “You’re not going to find a lot of Nicaraguan in the United States.”
However, in his short time with the Royals last season, Cuthbert said he quickly found something that helped him feel a little more at home.
“When I went to Kansas City, I met two Nicaraguans and spent a lot of my time with them when I was there,” Cuthbert said. “Sometimes they try to cook for me and make me think that I’m home, and that was fun.”
Cuyler Meade is a senior in the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.