Holiday breaks often offer a chance for Northwestern State student-athletes and staff to go home and reconnect with family and friends.
Few, however, are privileged enough to enjoy the experience Demon second baseman Daunte Stuart had upon his return to his home country of the Bahamas.
Stuart, a two-time All-Southland Conference selection entering his fourth season at NSU, was part of the host nation’s team in the fourth Caribbean Cup, played at sparkling new Andre Rodgers Baseball Stadium in Nassau.
“There were a lot of feelings,” Stuart said of fielding the phone call that ultimately led him to don his country’s colors. “The biggest one was surprise, because it came out of nowhere for me. Right after surprise, there was a moment of pride. I don’t think there’s anything bigger on the individual side than being able to represent the country where you grew up.”
The Bahamas hosted the Caribbean Cup, which featured Cuba, Puerto Rico, Curacao and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Rosters were made up of players 23 years old and younger, which allowed Stuart to return to his the country he spent the first 14 years of his life before moving to The Woodlands, Texas, for high school.
Stuart has made trips back to the Bahamas throughout college, mostly coming in the semester break, as while becoming one of the Southland Conference’s top Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft prospects.
After working with his professors to ensure he completed his fall semester requirements, Stuart arrived in Nassau on Dec. 3 with the tournament starting Dec. 4.
The late arrival did not hurt Stuart, who led the team in batting average (.333) and finished second with six hits in four games. Stuart’s performance in games and the additional time spent working with a coaching staff that included Miami Marlins standout Jazz Chisholm, who is Stuart’s cousin, afforded Stuart a chance to stay active in what typically is a challenging part of the calendar for college baseball players.
“He played well for his country,” seventh-year NSU head coach Bobby Barbier said. “Not only did he play well, he got a lot of work in for us. Right now – well the holidays – is the hardest time for us, because we don’t get to work with them for six weeks. You trust those guys to go home and do what they’re supposed to do. Daunte had that built in playing in that series.”
While the Bahamas went 1-3 and did not advance to the medal round of the event, Stuart was able to immerse himself in his country’s emerging baseball culture.
Eight native Bahamians have reached the major leagues since Andre Rodgers became the first in April 1957. Chisholm and fellow infielder Lucius Fox are the most recent additions to that list while San Francisco Giants first base coach Antoan Richardson – a three-year MLB veteran – was the first of a new wave of Bahmian big leaguers.
Richardson’s Sept. 4, 2011, debut with the Atlanta Braves made him the first Bahamian in the bigs since Wil Culmer in 1983.
“It’s been beautiful,” Stuart said of seeing his countrymen bring attention to baseball in their home country. “Growing up in the Bahamas, we had certain people we could look up to like Antoan Richardson, who I got to work with over the break. It’s becoming more of our sport.
“We already were known in track and field and in basketball with (Indiana Pacers guard) Buddy Hield. Jazz and other ballplayers who are bringing the game of baseball to the youngsters is beautiful. Now I’m going back to ballparks where I grew up and I played and I’m seeing kids doing the Eurostep after hitting a home run and playing with a little flair.
“It’s beautiful. It really is.”
Perhaps no moment for Stuart encapsulated the totality of his stay back home than in the Bahamas’ 4-2 loss to Curacao.
“My teammate, D’Shawn Knowles, who I grew up with, hit a home run to put us ahead,” Stuart said. “Everyone erupted. It was an experience. A lot more people are getting into baseball because we built (Andre Rodgers Stadium). We’re getting more players in pro ball. It was a good time, and everyone was excited.”