Quite A Pair
Hosmer, Nieto have succeeded together
From the time they were 11, it's hard for Adrian Nieto and Eric Hosmer to tell a story about themselves that doesn't involve the other and baseball. The two met at their first baseball practice together when playing for an 11-and-under travel team called the Miami Mudcats, marking the beginning of an eight-year friendship that has turned more into a brotherhood.
Hosmer as a first baseman/lefthanded pitcher and Nieto as a catcher, the two have played together every year since that first practice and are currently teaming up for South Florida's American Heritage High, the nation's top-ranked high school team.
Whether winning national tournaments or playing in the Aflac Classic, success and accolades have followed both Hosmer and Nieto each step of the way. Now both are considered top draft prospects expected to be selected in the first two rounds of the draft, with Hosmer a potential top 10 overall pick.
While the two were immediate friends—sharing a love for baseball and the ability to play it at a high level—they come from drastically different backgrounds and have opposite personalities on the baseball field.
At age 4, carried on the shoulder of his father, Nieto and his parents boarded a 40-year-old wooden boat—described almost as a raft—in hopes of fleeing their home country of Cuba for the United States. The vessel carried 22 other hopeful Cubans, with even more attempting to climb on board as they pushed off into the ocean.
"We were at capacity, but people were still trying to get on," Nieto said. "We had to fight to keep them off the raft, and people were throwing rocks at us."
Hosmer, on the other hand, comes from the prototypical all-American family. His father Mike is a firefighter and travel ball coach and mother Ilena is a teaching assistant at American Heritage. Hosmer has lived in Florida his entire life, and like most younger brothers, grew up wanting to be just like his older brother Mikey.
Imitating his brother, Hosmer played travel ball—with his father as a coach—and that's where the Nieto and Hosmer stories align. When Nieto's parents were unable to travel, due to work obligations, the Hosmers took him as their own during weekends and on baseball road trips.
The Joining Journey
Nieto's family took a much more grueling trip to South Florida, beginning when their boat was found by the United States Coast Guard 25 miles from American soil. The refugees were taken to the Guantanamo Bay American Naval Base, and a stay that was supposed to last 72 hours turned into six months at the base.
On March 1, 1995—six and a half months after leaving Cuba—the family was granted permission to live in America and was transported to Florida. Six months after that, Nieto started playing baseball. His parents took on as many as five jobs at a time between them—one of which was a job at a local batting cage.
"That's how I learned to switch-hit," Nieto said. "I got to go to the batting cage for free. My mom would put it on, and I would hit for two hours straight every day."
Nieto is now the top switch-hitting catcher in this year's draft class, and will most likely be one of the first five catchers selected on draft day.
He also benefited from the care the Hosmer's family showed while his parents worked. "The Hosmers have been like another mom and dad for Adrian," Nieto's mother Teresa Hernandez said, speaking in Spanish as Adrian interpreted. "Thanks to them, Adrian has gone everywhere in this country to play baseball."
While the Hosmers took Nieto as another son, Eric Hosmer took him as his brother.
They play video games together, they eat together, they practice together (often times at the batting cage where Nieto learned to switch-hit) and they dream together. After both were selected to play in the Aflac Classic last year, the first of their three goals for their senior year was achieved. The other two: win a Florida state championship in May and get selected in the draft come June.
American Heritage was scheduled to face Pensacola Catholic High in mid-May in the state finals, and both Hosmer and Nieto look like locks to be premium draft picks, so their goals are well within reach.
On the field, Nieto is a vocal leader—the team general behind the plate—who is often smiling but is quick to keep his teammates in line and baserunners at bay.
"He's the best catcher I've been around as far as knowledge of the game and handling the staff," Heritage coach Todd Fitz-Gerald said. "He is very alert and is never caught off guard."
For Hosmer, on the other hand, the loudest noise you'll hear out of him is the sound of his bat. "Eric is more the quiet, lead by example guy," Fitz-Gerald said.
At 6-feet-4, 215 pounds and with arguably the most explosive bat speed in this year's draft class, Hosmer doesn't need to say much to be respected. His power reaches to all fields as he draws comparisons to fellow Florida native and current Angels first baseman Casey Kotchman.