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Don Owen: From Newport baseball star to community icon, Jim Cutter credits success to mom

At first glance, I thought it was a mistake.

Could a high school baseball player have really driven in 11 runs during a single game? Not just 11 RBI, but every run during an 11-0 victory?

That’s what the Newport High School Hall of Fame biography says for 2014 charter inductee Jim Cutter, who was the preeminent hitter of 9th Region baseball in the 1970s. Cutter was a mixture of Mike Trout, Superman, James Bond and Bo Jackson as a do-everything athlete for the Wildcats, earning 11 varsity letters.

But all 11 of Newport’s RBI in a single baseball game?

Turns out, it’s completely factual. Cutter hit a grand slam, three-run homer, two-run homer and two-run double as Newport — er, make that Jim Cutter — clobbered Campbell County by an 11-0 score in 1978. There are eyewitnesses around to vouch for the feat, too.

Newport High School baseball standouts Jim Cutter (left) and Dave “Beater” Schlosser in 1978.

“I was an assistant coach at the time and was there to see it,” said Grady Brown, who has been associated with the Newport sports programs since the early 1970s. “It was at Vater’s Field, where Campbell County played at the time. Jimmy put on a show that day. It was 11-0. He knocked in every run that game. It really happened.”

Full-disclosure time: I wasn’t overly shocked when I saw who had accomplished it. See, James David Cutter is my cousin. To me, he’s simply Jimmy. To others, he’s the guy who eventually founded Cutter Construction, a thriving custom homebuilding business based in Northern Kentucky. Or maybe they remember him as the baseball star at Newport and later a team captain for Northern Kentucky University.

But Jimmy Cutter is also one of the finest people I’ve ever met, and a real-life hero to many — including me. And not just because of sports.

As a kid, I watched in amazement when Jimmy smashed rubber balls into oblivion while playing “Strikeout” at the old Dora Cummings Elementary schoolyard in Newport. I also had the opportunity to witness his routine when he was arguably the best Knothole hitter who ever swung a bat in Campbell County.

Away from sports, though, Jimmy also saved his scrawny cousin — me — a time or two when I was about 9 or 10.

As a pre-teen, Jimmy was built like Charles Atlas. I was built like Barney Fife. It’s no coincidence bullies focus more on the Fifes of the world than the Atlases. Luckily for me on a couple of occasions, Jimmy was there at the schoolyard to scare off a youthful bully or two. They wanted no part of the future Newport High School superstar baseball player.

At that point, Jimmy was more like a combination of Superman and James Bond to me. And that’s before he ever swung a bat for Newport High School, where he was inserted into the starting lineup for the varsity baseball team as a freshman.


The stories of Jimmy Cutter’s hitting exploits in Knothole baseball had reached the Newport High School coaching staff by the time he entered his freshman year in 1974. That reputation, plus the skill level he displayed in tryouts, earned him an unusual promotion.

Pictured is the State Bank team that Jim Cutter (standing third from left) starred for during the 1973 Knothole baseball season.

“When I was a freshman I went to try out for the baseball team. The coaches were Ray Brown, Grady Brown and Jack Patterson, and they asked me to stay after tryouts,” Cutter recalled. “They said they wanted me to dress varsity, but I’d been trying out for the freshman team. I told them I wanted to play, that I didn’t want to sit the bench. And they told me they had a spot on the varsity for me and I would play. I didn’t think I would, but they put me at shortstop.

“Now keep in mind, Newport had a good group of athletes on the team — Rob Allen, Dicky Boothe, Steve Fields, Leonard Slaughter, Mark Ball — and I thought, ‘How do I fit in with these guys? I’m a freshman?’ It was quite humbling being on the same team with those guys. You know how it is for any freshman in high school, when you don’t know a lot of the upperclassmen? Well, they put me at shortstop and that’s how my career started at Newport.”

A tough task, given Cutter had been a catcher.

“Honestly, I thought I’d be a catcher because that’s the position I had played since I was a kid,” he said. “Playing shortstop was a big adjustment for a freshman in high school, because I’d never played there.

“In those first weeks of practice Grady and Ray, because they were so mad at me for letting the ball roll under my legs, they put a rod between my legs with a rope on each side of it so you have to hop. Everybody laughed for a few weeks, but it taught me how to get down on the ball. I played shortstop that first year, and then they moved me to the outfield for the most part my final three years.”

Cutter fit in perfectly with the veteran Newport players that first season. He even earned the admiration of Newport Catholic star pitcher Ken Wilfong by collecting a pair of hits in a game against the Thoroughbreds’ mound ace.

“Kenny was nearly impossible to hit with this breaking ball that just dropped out of sight,” Cutter said of Wilfong, who is in Newport Catholic’s Hall of Fame and led the ‘Breds to state runner-up honors in 1976. “I was fortunate enough to get a couple of hits off him, the only two we had. He came up to me after the game and said ‘Nice job on those hits,’ and this is coming from a pitcher who was one of the best in the state.”

Two weeks later in the district tournament, Cutter again broke up Wilfong’s no-hitter with a single up the middle in the sixth inning. Wilfong, however, hit a two-run homer in that game as NewCath defeated Newport en route to winning both the district and regional titles.


As a four-year varsity starter, Cutter set virtually every batting record in Newport history. He hit .598 as a junior, and followed that up with an eye-popping .693 average as a senior. Then-head coach Ray Brown called Cutter “the best hitter in school history” as his star rewrote the Newport record book and emerged as the 9th Region’s top offensive player.

A newspaper clipping from The Kentucky Post in 1978 showing Jim Cutter rounding third base against Dayton.

Some opponents questioned the legitimacy of the impressive batting averages at the time, but Grady Brown said the Newport coaches never inflated the statistics.

“All you had to do is watch the way we kept the book and you’d know we didn’t give anybody a freebie on an error,” he said. “Jimmy probably would have batted a little higher if we’d fudged stats, but we never did. He was on base three or four times every game. Most of his hits were in the gaps and were line drives. He hit the ball like no one I’ve ever seen in high school.”

Cutter laughed when asked about the skeptics who questioned his hitting accomplishments. “My junior year and senior year in high school, when I kept seeing my name in the newspaper because of the batting average, people would say, ‘You don’t have that average. That’s not real.’ I’d tell them the coaches keep the scorebook, not me,” he said.

“The players on our team, they knew I was on base two or three times a game and they always defended me when people tried to say the batting average wasn’t legit. As long as my teammates knew, I really didn’t care about what others thought.”

I asked Grady Brown about the Kentucky High School Athletic Association baseball record book, which is missing most of the statistical accomplishments from the 1960s and ‘70s, and he laughed. “There was no computer reporting of stats in those days,” he said. “That’s why you don’t see Jimmy in that all-time category. I’d be happy to get them the information and confirm it because what he did is remarkable.”

Cutter’s 11 runs batted in would be tied for the third-most in Kentucky history (13 is the single-game record, shared by two players). His .693 batting average in 1978 would rank as the second-highest in state history, trailing only Maysville St. Patrick’s Noah Welte’s .737 average in 2000.

According to the KHSAA website, the organization is “continuing its efforts to establish and update its state baseball records.” The KHSAA needs only “some form of statistical verification” to include Cutter’s record from the 1970s. “I’ll be glad to get them any of the information and verify it all,” Brown said.


The game known as “Strikeout” consisted of a rubber ball, a bat, a rectangular strike zone painted/chalked on a cement wall of a building, and generally two players — a batter and a pitcher. In many cases, such as at the old Newport High School on Columbia Street, the pitcher was about 30 feet away from the batter’s box.

Such a simplistic game might have helped shape Cutter’s future as a baseball player.

“Hitting became more natural for me playing ‘Strikeout,’ and I still says to this day that when you stand there with a small bat and somebody is 30 feet away throwing as fast as they can, you develop a rhythm and an eye for batting,’ he said. “I didn’t do anything special. I never had a hitting coach. I just felt comfortable hitting. That ‘Strikeout’ game that we played all the time growing up helped me develop as a hitter and see the ball. I played ‘Strikeout’ as much as I could and I’m convinced it was a major reason I was able to see the ball so well.”


His high school career finished, Cutter had plenty of colleges interested in signing him. He also received an offer from the Montreal Expos to sign and begin his professional baseball career. With an opportunity to sign with several schools in Florida, Cutter planned a recruiting visit.

But something changed his mind. The deciding factor on his choice out of high school?

“Jessie Cutter,” he said, smiling at the thought of his late mother. “I couldn’t leave her back here, or even begin to think about making her sad. My father died when I was a baby, and Mom had raised me by herself. She worked seven days a week, put in all kinds of hours as a waitress to support me. Mom was my best friend. There was no way I could leave to go to college.”

Instead, Cutter eventually signed with NKU and head coach Bill Aker. Aker’s son, Billy, had actually asked Cutter to look into the possibility of playing at NKU. It didn’t take long for the freshman from Newport to make an impact, as he earned a starting position in the outfield. All seemed well for Cutter at NKU. Until a practice that spring, when a teammate ran into his leg going for a ball in the outfield, causing massive damage to Cutter’s knee. He needed surgery to repair the knee, a total reconstruction performed by Dr. Frank Noyes.

A newspaper story describes Jim Cutter’s comeback from knee surgery during his career at NKU.

“I had a cast on my leg that ran from my hip to my foot, and you could only see like three of my toes,” Cutter recalled.

After a vigorous rehabilitation program, Cutter was able to return a year later and played both outfield and designated hitter. He enjoyed a solid career at NKU and was invited to a Cincinnati Reds tryout camp. “I hit the ball well at the tryout, I think I even hit a home run,” he said. “But they had us run a 40-yard dash or some type of sprint. Keep in mind I’d had the knee surgery three years earlier, and I was put in a three-man group with a pair of really fast runners. I did OK, even though they finished ahead of me.

“I had outhit most of the people there, but one of the guys directing the tryout later told me, ‘You hit the ball well, but we can teach guys to hit. We can’t teach speed.’ That was the end of that.”


Bill Aker, the legendary NKU baseball coach who passed away in 2011, once told me Cutter was the best stand-up comic he had ever met. He kept the team laughing at all times. But Aker also shared something I didn’t know: Jimmy Cutter never touched alcohol his entire college career — or ever.

“I’ve never tasted alcohol once,” Cutter said. “Even as a kid, I hated the smell of beer. I never did drugs, never smoked, or anything. As I got older, my friends would say we’re going to fix that. They thought they would talk me into drinking. But I always stayed away from it.

“I was able to remain friends with them, but they eventually respected that I didn’t drink. When we went out, I would drive them home because I was sober.”

So the designated hitter also doubled up as the designated driver in college. His reason for totally avoiding alcohol as a youth?

“It all comes down to I didn’t want to disappoint my mom,” he said, showing me a photograph of Jessie Cutter that is posted on his smart phone. “She worked seven days a week and did so much for me, I couldn’t bear the thought of upsetting her. No way I would make decisions that would let her down.”


Having accepted his shot at professional baseball was in the past, Cutter worked at various jobs after getting his degree in construction management from NKU. “I didn’t want to work inside, I wanted to be outside,” he said. “I couldn’t find a job in 1982 with the nation going through a down economy. George Frakes (Newport’s principal at the time) asked me to come back and be a substitute teacher. I found out quickly it wasn’t for me.”

Jim Cutter

He found a position with Ryan Homes — “That made a world of difference for me in our industry and gave me a lot of confidence,” he said — and then later moved on to General Electric in Evendale, where he spent eight years as in the air-freight business group as a manufacturing manager and team leader. Cutter also spent his free time working on the side, building porches and decks.

“I was putting in a lot of hours at GE, but I also worked almost every night doing part-time jobs for people who needed home repairs, decks, you name it,” he said. “I developed many great relationships at GE that I still have today, but working inside a factory just wasn’t what I wanted to do.”

Cutter and his former NKU teammate, Larry Piening, started their own company in 1992, calling it Cutter and Piening Building Contractors. They began doing remodeling and small home-improvement jobs. Cutter and Piening both worked full-time jobs in addition to their part-time business, and the mounting requests for their services caused another life-changing decision for Cutter.

“It was getting very stressful on both Larry and me, because we’re both working full-time jobs and trying to do all this extra work on the side,” Cutter said. “Larry had a family and so did I, and we were putting in 19-20 hours a day sometimes. So after a year, Larry decided to move on from it. I completely understood his decision.

“I wanted to grow the business so I could support my family. I turned it into Cutter Construction, and Larry started his own lawn care business and florist. It was a friendly departure on both ends, and it worked out well for both of us.”

There was some slight opposition to his decision. “My mom thought I was crazy,” he recalled. “She couldn’t believe I was leaving a really good job at GE to start my own business. That was in 1993.”


It began small and eventually morphed into a respected business throughout the Greater Cincinnati area. The Wiedemann Hill homes in Newport are an example of Cutter Construction’s determination to meet a customer’s needs. Same with CityView in Bellevue, Manhattan Harbour in Dayton, and the Clifton Riverview Project in Newport.

“I honestly credit the success of our company to my ignorance,” Cutter said with a chuckle. “When people would call me to do jobs at the beginning in 1993, I didn’t know what I was talking about. I would do the research, got the right help from the experienced people and we completed the jobs. But we’ve grown a great deal since those early days. We now offer a full-service team to complete any remodeling project, from installing new doors to renovating schools, churches, and office buildings. You name it, we’ll do it.”

During that period he has served as president of the Home Builders Association of Kentucky, a commitment he decided to make after serving with distinction as president of the Northern Kentucky Home Builders Association in 2006. In 2007, Cutter was awarded the prestigious Donald M. Wiedeman Award for dedication, loyalty, and service to the association and industry. Four years later, the Better Business Bureau of Greater Cincinnati recognized Cutter Construction with the Torch Award for Marketplace Ethics, recognizing the great care the company takes to treat each customer with respect, honesty, and loyalty.

Cutter was named “Builder of the Year” in Northern Kentucky twice (2003 and 2015) and then “Builder of the Year” in the state of Kentucky in 2014. “I would have never thought I could start a business, much less be selected by my peers in the industry for those awards,” Cutter said.

Jessie Cutter (center) with son Jim Cutter (right) in 1974 during a vacation in Washington, D.C. At the left is Jim’s cousin, Don Owen.

He has also served on more than 20 boards in the community (most of those nonprofit children’s affiliations) and was the NKU Alumni President as well. “It is important to me to serve our community and give back,” he said. “I’ve also sponsored and coached multiple youth sport teams during the past 20 years to carry on the generous gift of time that so many shared with me growing up.”

Cutter knows how his part-time job transformed into a thriving business that is celebrating its 25th anniversary.

“First, any success I’ve had is due to my mother,” he said. “She taught me how to get up and go to work every day, and to work hard all the time. And, second, the teamwork I’ve learned from all these teams. I couldn’t win a baseball game; it takes a team of players. I couldn’t build a home; it’s that team of people working together. I became good at building teams. I did it at GE, and I did it with Cutter Construction.

“There are a lot of great custom builders, but we’ve developed that little niche of doing a unique home. We haven’t been afraid to do the kinds of things other builders might not try. But I couldn’t do it without everybody else. I’m just one person. I need the customer’s input, sub-contractors. The basic skills my mom taught me.”

Jessie Cutter would be proud to know that the kid from Newport High School, that mixture of Mike Trout, Superman, James Bond and Bo Jackson, has grown into a well-respected businessman, community leader, father and husband. While building numerous homes, Jimmy Cutter has also built a reputation for hard work, success and community involvement that no one will ever dispute.

Contact Don Owen at don@nkytrib.com and follow him on Twitter at @dontribunesport

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