By Rob Patrick
When the Bryant School District decided to build an on-campus baseball field, it figured[more] to have a little bit deeper fences than the Hornets’ home at the time, the Babe Ruth field at Ashley Park. That was especially evident due to the fact that their head coach at the time was a former star pitcher at Bryant, Terry Harper.
Though some hitters might contend that they made it too big, the result was an expansive outfield that made it imperative for a team to have speed out there defensively. Otherwise, it would turn into a doubles and triples haven.
And that was a big part of the success of the Hornets this spring when they lost just two games to in-state teams (including, unfortunately, Rogers in the State tournament semifinals) and went undefeated at home. The group may have been the fastest set of outfielders BHS has deployed with Hayden Daniel in right, Tyler Green in center, Marcus Wilson in left as well as their fourth outfielder Austin Caldwell.
Wilson has already signed to play college ball at Arkansas Tech. Green, a top-notch golfer, signed to stroll the links at Northeastern (Okla.) State. And now, Daniel, the son of Tom and Kathy Daniel, has committed to continue his education and baseball career at Henderson State University in Arkadelphia.
“He’s, by far, one of the best outfielders we’ve had since I’ve been here,” stated Hornets coach Kirk Bock. “He makes remarkable plays and he covers a lot of ground. It’s going to be extremely hard for us to replace just that type of athleticism that he has in the outfield. And he came up big offensively at times.”
Daniel hit .299 as a junior for the 2012 State champion Hornets, leading the team with 26 runs batted in with a team-high 19 stolen bases. During the summer with the State champion Bryant Black Sox Senior Legion team, he hit .243. He bounced back in high school this spring, hitting .295 and so far this summer with the Sox, he’s ratcheted it up to .341 through 34 games.
“They’re getting a heck of an outfielder, a guy that can make plays and, on the bases, he’s one of the best baserunners we’ve had in a long time,” noted Sox manager Darren Hurt. “There’s lots of speed but he’s also very smart. He can lay down bunts and he hits the baseball. I think he’s only going to get better. I don’t think he’s reached his peak yet.”
The younger brother of Colorado Rockies minor league pitcher Trent Daniel, Hayden (whom Trent dubbed “Petey” when they were little) has developed into a solid hurler in his own right. He was 4-0 for the 2012 Sox with a miniscule earned run average of 1.00. This spring with the Hornets, he led the team in saves and finished with an ERA of 0.84. So far this summer, the right-hander is 2-0 with an 0.74 ERA. He’s struck out 24 in 19 innings.
“I think he’ll be a two-way player for them or certainly could be,” Bock said. “I think he’s a guy that can step in right now and play. And he’ll help them on the mound.”
“Coach Bock pushes us more than everybody and this season I kind of picked up my game,” Daniel related. “I hit a lot better this season. Really, I just put it together as a ballplayer. The defense was a whole lot better this year. I guess I just developed. I grew up a lot since last year and I put in some more work and got it to where I’m at right now.”
Daniel started considering Henderson when he got a call from Reddies head coach Cody Hooten.
“I guess it was in February,” he recalled. “He asked me to come to a camp. I was already going to some other ones. He said he watched all my Legion games last year.
“I was waiting to see who all was going to talk to me,” Daniel continued. “It was getting down to the wire so I had to pick. I went on an official visit over there and as soon as I walked on the campus I thought it was the place for me.
“So I talked to the coach and he said he only had a couple of outfielders coming back and he could use my speed and defense and said he liked the way I played the game. Whenever he told me there were only two outfielders, it kind of raised my eyebrows a little bit.”
There were other schools Daniel considered including Crowder Junior College in Missouri.
“I went on an official visit,” he noted. “I had to do a tryout for them then UAM had called me, and Harding and a couple of other schools. But I went for the visit (to Henderson) and really fell in love with the campus.
“The reason I picked that school was I want to go somewhere I know I can play or at least I have a chance to play instead of going to some big school and sit on the bench a couple of years,” Daniel acknowledged. “I thought it was a good fit for me and the coach is a really good coach and really nice guy.”