Before Everth Cabrera ever played regularly in Double-A or Triple-A, perfunctory bus-ride and per-diem stops on the path to major-league baseball, his image was stretched, at least one story tall and 30 yards wide, on an advertisement beyond the right field wall at Petco Park.

He was the San Diego Padres everyday shortstop.

Cabrera was selected from the Colorado Rockies in the Rule 5 draft, a baseball-unique system that exposes sixth-year players not named to the parent club's 40-man roster, before the 2009 season.

Per the rule, he had to stay on the Padres 25-man roster for a full season or be offered back to Colorado. Which explains how the Nicaraguan, after spending 2008 riding buses for Single-A Asheville in North Carolina, played 103 big-league games for the 2009 San Diego Padres. "An unbelievable experience," the 24-year-old switch hitter said.

The speedster's career arc was warped, more a game of Chutes and Ladders than climbing the corporate ladder.

Nicaragua's 2009 Athlete of the Year has never played at Double-A. Entering this season, his Triple-A experience was limited to 15 games - rehab assignments and a weeklong demotion last year.

Cabrera, who first signed with the Rockies for $5,000, will start this season as the Tucson Padres everyday shortstop after the parent club traded for Jason Bartlett this off-season.

The Cabrera poster was removed from Petco Park last month.

"This is a beautiful opportunity for me and my career this year," Cabrera said.

In San Diego, Cabrera's emotions were never far away. He cried when injured or, on occasion, when the team lost. David Eckstein loved that, Cabrera said, because it was a sign Cabrera respected the game.

"That's why I went from Asheville to the big leagues," Cabrera said.

He points to his heart.

"I am strong here," he said.