Hometown Pitch: Sturgis East grad becomes a Kettleer on his own talent
COTUIT -- Hometown favorite Luke Chevalier would prefer if no one knows his story — at least not yet. Not until he has proven himself.
When he was introduced on opening day Tuesday at Lowell Park, the public-address announcer introduced him as a pitcher from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where his family now lives instead of Cotuit, where he was raised. Chevalier, who enters his fifth season at Northern State in Aberdeen, South Dakota, in fall 2018, wrote Sioux Falls down as his hometown so as not to call attention to himself.
As he introduced himself to his Cotuit Kettleer teammates, Chevalier didn’t tell anyone where he was raised, instead saying he’s from South Dakota and to keep “this whole thing low-key.” For now, the last thing Chevalier wants to be known as is a Kettleer pitcher raised in the town he now plays in. It’s not that he’s embarrassed to be a local player. He’s proud of it.
But in a highly competitive summer league filled with the top NCAA Div. I players in the country, the Cotuit product from a Div. II school wants to prove he earned a temporary contract based on his accomplishments, not for cheap applause.
“I just want them to like know that I'm actually here like on my own merit and on my own skill,” said Chevalier, a Sturgis East Charter School graduate who played high school baseball for the Storm. “And I don't want them to think that it's just like, 'Oh, your family is like well-known around here.’”
Chevalier did not just grow up in Cotuit. He grew up a bike ride from Lowell Park, where he now plays. And he didn’t just spend time at the park growing up watching the Kettleers. He also played on it for years as a child, then in high school for Sturgis East and Sandwich Legion Post 188 during the summer.
The baseball lessons began early with Chevalier playing baseball with tiny sponge balls in the house with his dad and two brothers. Eventually, that led to him learning about the Kettleers.
“When he was 6, he was very into the baseball and the Cape League and we put him into a camp,” said Nikki Chevalier, Luke’s mother. “The coaches saw that in him. They saw his excitement. He won this award, like a sportsmanship award. They gave him a broken bat from one of the games.”
He didn’t understand why they gave him a broken bat that he couldn’t use to hit with, but it didn’t matter. He was hooked on Cotuit baseball — and so was his family.
Nikki sang the National Anthem for about 10 years prior to Kettleers games, and Chevalier’s sister, Gabrielle, sang “Take me out to the ballgame.” Outgoing and talkative, Nikki befriended many people at the park and became what Chevalier termed “Cotuit royalty.”
Soon after discovering the Kettleers, Chevalier made it his goal to to put on the pinstripes and play a summer for the hometown team.
For a while, it seemed like a longshot. He was a 5-foot-5, 130-pound high school freshman. He grew into a 5-foot-10, 150-pound senior. Despite lacking size, he was all-state in baseball his final year at Sturgis East, and hit .511 with 37 RBIs.
Chevalier knew he wanted to be closer to his family, which would move back to South Dakota, so he chose to play at Northern State. There, he blossomed into a muscular 6-foot-1, 190-pound frame. When he visited two summers ago, Chevalier recalled his Cotuit friends asking incredulously, “When the hell did you grow up?”
In 2017 at Northern State, he broke out. Chevalier had a school-record 1.82 ERA in 69.1 innings pitched with 73 strikeouts, the most in program history. He was named All-Region honorable mention.
That, combined with a stellar 3.90 ERA in 50.2 innings with the Willmar Stingers in the Northwoods League, piqued Cotuit’s interest. Then, in early August while he wrapped up the summer-league season in Waterloo, Iowa, he got a phone call offering him a temporary contact.
“When I got the call, I was just like, it was kind of just like a sigh of relief because I was just like, 'That's pretty cool. I did it. I finally made it here,’” Chevalier said. “I have no pressure. I feel like I have no pressure here. I'm just here to play. I'm just going to try to do my thing. Basically all the pressure had come from the draft.”
That pressure turned to anger, which turned to motivation, when Chevalier, who expected to go around the 20th to 25th rounds of the 2017 MLB Draft, was not taken.
Chevalier has a chance to prove the MLB teams made a mistake by passing on him when he starts Cotuit’s game at Orleans on Saturday. If he’s lucky enough to get a second start, he’d be willing to have the public-address announcer tell the crowd he’s from the area. But not yet.
“I don't want it to be like, 'Oh,' and then, just, I get crushed the first game and then it'd be like, 'Oh, he's just here because coach Roberts knows his family,’” Chevalier said. “No. Not at all.”