Monday, August 24, 2009

Late bloomer earns spot with Sooners

RT Staff Note: Just north of us in Roseville, just outside of Sacramento, there's a player that we think exemplifies the old adage to never give up. If baseball is a passion with your son, there's no reason to stop playing. Some players mature at a much later date and a few years of junior college can help him become a stronger, smarter player. Enjoy!

Woodcreek alum Danny Black moves on to Division I baseball at Oklahoma
Kurt Johnson, The Press Tribune

With all of the hype surrounding travel baseball and showcases for college scouts, it seems that younger and younger players began traveling all over in the attempt to be identified as college prospects. One former Woodcreek Little League and Woodcreek High School player has proven that there is more than one way to climb that ladder.

A solid, but unspectacular player at Woodcreek High, Danny Black has evolved into an outstanding middle infielder, and his reward is a scholarship to play Division I college baseball at the University of Oklahoma, a powerhouse program.

“Danny was streaky offensively, and he hit about .284 his senior year,” said Black’s high school coach Jerry Rieger. “There was nothing flashy, but he was a steady defensive player who took pride in his defense.”

Despite the lack of scouts pounding on his door coming out of high school, Black wanted to continue his baseball career.

“I didn’t get my height, speed and strength until after I was done with high school,” Black said. “I was looking for somewhere to have a chance to play.”

He found that place at a remote location – Feather River College in Quincy. While the school seems a bit out of the way, it is a junior college with a solid baseball reputation.

“I was fortunate to play there for a coach who had connections and to play for a successful team,” Black said. “That helped me get to Oklahoma. The kids who are doing the showcases and the travel ball are working on the visibility that helps promote them and get them seen.”

Terry Baumgartner, the head coach at Feather River, is one of Black’s biggest fans.

“Danny is one of the greatest kids I have had the chance to coach during my 17 years of coaching at the collegiate level,” Baumgartner said. “He did everything we asked of him and then some on and off the field. He made tremendous improvements from the fall of his freshman year until now. He was the kind of player at Feather River that could change the outcome of a game with his speed on offense or his defensive skills.”

That effort paid off in a big way for Black, who did play two years with the California Sting travel ball team in addition to his time in Little League and on the high school scene. In his case, it was not until he was discovered at the junior college ranks that his career really took off.

“I think it would be fair to say that he was not highly recruited out of Woodcreek High School,” Baumgartner said. “When he contacted me in July of 2007 the only option he had was to go to Yuba College. So we brought him up here for a visit and workout. I knew after watching his workout that he had the chance to be a special player because of his arm strength and actions at shortstop.”

The coach believes Black’s work ethic has been critical to his rapid and recent ascension onto the radar with the college and pro scouts. In addition to the scholarship to Oklahoma, Black was also selected in the 42nd round of June’s Major League draft.

“He had the body type that you could project would be able to get stronger and I even liked the way he swung the bat but he just wasn’t very strong,” Baumgartner said. “I knew that if he came to our place that my coaching staff could help Danny achieve his goals in baseball. For Danny to be able to get the scholarship offer from Oklahoma and even be drafted by the New York Yankees in the 42nd round is a credit to his hard work.

“I am sure a lot of the Sacramento area JCs are kicking themselves for not giving Danny a chance to prove himself,” he added. “Luckily for us he chose to come to Feather River College and he believed in what we could do for his baseball career and academics.”

Danny continues to draw motivation from the example of his twin sister Kelley, who passed away in 2006 after an inoperable brain tumor.

“She helped motivate me a lot,” Black said. “She was my hero and her death showed me that it can all end any day, so we need to enjoy life.”

Danny’s message to young ball players, even those who might not be superstars during their teenage years is that you need to keep playing, keep pushing and working for your spot.

“If you work hard, it pays off in the end,” Black said. “The coaches understand that you are going out and doing it, and they will give you a shot.”

His college coach at Feather River credits Black’s desire to get better as the thing that stands out the most about his former shortstop.

“When you are looking for JC players to play at a small college like FRC we are looking for the kids like Danny who are being overlooked and we give them the teaching, coaching and the opportunity to succeed,” Baumgartner said. “To Danny’s credit he took full advantage of that opportunity. He spent the time in the weight room getting stronger, on the field taking extra ground balls, and in the cages working on his swing.”

The desire to keep moving to the next level remains a major goal for Black, who has persevered to this point based on his will to keep pushing on. He took the next step this month when he arrived in Oklahoma with his dream still intact.

“As long as he keeps up the hard work and determination he will have a shot to play professional baseball after his time at Oklahoma,” Baumgartner said.

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