There was a time in Detroit when the city produced Major League Baseball players like Willie Horton, Marvin Lane, Ted Sizemore, Bill Daniels, John Mayberry and Alex Johnson, just to name a few.
No, the Motor City was not rolling baseball players out like the automobile factories were producing cars, but the talent pool was vast and noteworthy.
However, as baseball has lost some of its luster and steam in America’s Urban Cities; conversely, the number of MLB players from those areas has decreased measurably.
The sting has been tempered somewhat by the Spanish speaking players that look like many in America’s Urban Cities.
Breaking that trend is Detroiter Daniel Fields.
Selected by the Tigers in the sixth round of the 2009 MLB Draft, Fields, out of the University of Detroit Jesuit High, became one of the first Detroiters to be drafted and signed in too many years to recount.
“I’m happy for Daniel, because this is what he has wanted to do since he was a baby,” said his mother, Julie Fields. “A Black kid from Detroit getting drafted is unbelievable. Everyone knows that kids in the inner cities are playing the game less and because of it, they see less people from their community getting draft and that has an affect on their choice as to what sports to pursue in high school.”
While many in Urban America discard baseball for football and basketball, Fields concurred with his mother, saying he always knew what he wanted to do.
“I played football and basketball and I was pretty good at them,” he noted, “but I always had something burning in me about baseball. I suppose being around the game all my life helped me stay connected to it.”
Daniel’s connection to baseball is obvious, his father, Bruce, played and coached for the Tigers. Bruce is presently a roving hitting instructor in the Cleveland Indians farm system.
The fact Bruce has been connected to the Tigers and Daniel grew up in Detroit, did not appear to spark the Tigers interest in him prior to the draft.
“I was surprised the Tigers drafted me,” Daniel exclaimed. “My advisors had told me there were a couple teams that were interested, but the Tigers never came up.
“My Dad played A Ball and Triple A Ball in the Tigers farm system, so it is exciting to get a chance to play in the same places he played and coached in. Plus I was a bat boy in some of those places.”
The reason Daniel, a 6-foot-3, 200 pound, left-handed hitting shortstop, dropped to the sixth-round in the MLB Draft was he had already signed as a scholarship baseball player at the University of Michigan.
“The hardest part was calling U-M baseball coach Rich Maloney,” he said. “That was a very tough call to make. He’s definitely the main reason why I chose Michigan.
“As the signing deadline came down to the last days, I was going back and forth in mind about what I was going to do. In the end it was a win, win situation for me. If we could not come to a contract agreement, I would have honored my scholarship.”
By all accounts Daniel’s baseball skill set and talent is much higher than his drafted position.
Macomb CC baseball coach Henry Washington was drafted with Bruce and they were roommates in the minors. He has known Daniel his entire life and has watched him grow as a baseball player.
“I’m not saying this because I know him, but Daniel is a phenomenal baseball player,” Washington interjected. “He has power, can throw, field and run like the wind. He is a true shortstop that is fast and big.”
The Tigers obviously agree with Washington, as they made Daniel an offer he could not refuse. General manager Dave Dombrowski said he had Detroit owner Mike Ilitch’s approval to “exceed slot expectations.”
As a result, Daniel received a generous $1.625 million bonus for a sixth-round pick.
Dombrowski noted that the Tigers were “aggressive in this area” with the 2009 Draft Class, because the front office felt “it is the best way to build an organization.”
Daniel said the Tigers told him he probably would be heading to the Florida Gulf Coast League later this month and possibly play in a few games at the end of the season. Then he will play in the instructional league in September. He also noted that the plan is to keep him at shortstop.
“I’m patient,” he said, “but I plan on working and practicing with a purpose everyday. I’m going to listen, observe and try to do the things that are expected from me. My goal is to work my butt off and maybe that will lead to me coming up to the big club in four or five years.”
Built like a running back and fast as a wide receiver, all hope Daniel has the right baseball stuff to make his and the Tigers’ imaginings a reality.
Leland Stein can be reached at email@example.com.