For most of his baseball career, Trent Daniel hasn’t been more than a few hours from his home in Bryant, Ark.
The 6-foot-1 left-hander was a two-time all-state starting pitcher at Bryant High School and a top starter at Arkansas-Fort Smith University in 2010 before becoming a tried-and-true long reliever at the University of Arkansas through last spring.
But after being selected by the Colorado Rockies in the 17th round of the 2013 MLB First-Year Player Draft, Daniel has definitely found his comfort zone on the pitching mound at Gesa Stadium, more than 2,000 miles away from Bryant.
Through his first 16 appearances as a closer with the Tri-City Dust Devils, Bryant has yet to give up his first run as a professional. He leads the Northwest League with 13 saves, and of the 68 NWL batters he has faced, only five have managed to get a hit against him.
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“He hit the ground running pretty well. One of the things he’s done is even when he doesn’t have his best stuff, he still goes out and competes. That’s a necessity,” Tri-City manager Drew Saylor said. “When a guy comes out on the back end into a one-run ballgame, basically the whole entire team is relying on him to go after guys. It takes a special kind of person to do that.”
Daniel has relied on a low-90s fastball and a nasty slider to finish games (he’s developing his changeup, too), but it has been what Saylor calls a ‘bulldog mentality’ that helps him thrive as a closer.
“It comes with experience, I think. I switched to the bullpen in college, so it’s something I acquired,” said Daniel, who went 4-1 with six saves and a 3.51 ERA in 100 innings in three years with the Razorbacks. “Coming in with traffic on the bases, you have to be ready to attack hitters.”
But even Daniel didn’t quite expect the success he’s had so far, including a spot in the NWL’s first All-Star game since 2004.
“(The stats) are not a big deal to me. I really just want to get the job done however it has to get done,” he said. “If I give up a run, then I do. It’s going to happen in baseball. I know that. I don’t focus on that. I just want to get the job done and get the win for the team.”
He did that in spectacular fashion on July 20, in a 2-0 home win over Salem-Keizer, as he combined with Sam Moll, Shane Broyles and Jerad McCrummen for the second no-hitter in franchise history.
He walked the Volcanoes’ No. 2 hitter, Brandon Bednar, with one out and went 3-2 to Jeremy Sy before striking him out. Then he got the last batter, Brian Ragira, to swing at a slider in the dirt.
Tri-City catcher Chris O’Dowd stayed with the ball and tagged Ragira out before rushing out to the mound to celebrate with Daniel.
“It’s an amazing experience any time you get a chance to do something like that,” Daniel said. “We talked about it with the guys, but pretty much the next day it was over with. We had to focus on the next game.”
What made the experience even more memorable was having his mother and father, Kathy and Tom Daniel, in the stands.
“In all the years I’ve watched baseball, I’ve never been a witness to (a no-hitter),” said Kathy, whose uncle is former Chicago Cubs’ All-Star shortstop Don Kessinger. “Before Trent was ready to go in, my husband said, ‘There sure are a lot of zeros up there on the scoreboard.’
“I know you aren’t supposed to talk about it, so we got so crazy with every pitch he threw,” she said. “We beam with pride but are scared to death every time he’s out there.”
His dad expressed some regret about having to fly back to Bryant before the NWL All-Star Game, which was three weeks later in Everett.
“If we’d known, we would have been up there (on Aug. 6),” Tom said.
Mostly, his family — including younger brother Hayden — is just happy Trent is living his dream of playing pro ball.
So is the rest of the 13,000-person community of Bryant.
“We’re not a huge town, so everybody asks about him. They want us to post on Facebook,” his mom said. “Every parent believes their kid is destined to shine. We told Trent, ‘God has given you a talent, and you are very blessed. Now it’s up to you to do something with it.’ ”
Daniel admits to being a fan of former Atlanta Braves closer John Rocker, a southpaw whose talent was often overshadowed by his mouth, but doesn’t necessarily want to follow his example.
“He was crazy to watch out of the bullpen, but I can’t really say I want to be like him,” Daniel said. “I really like Cliff Lee, who is from my home town. He’s not flashy but he goes in and gets the job done.
“I like to carry myself like that.”
So far, so good.