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Daniel drops down and give Suns power

April 29, 2007|By BOB PARASILITI

Mike Daniel isn't picky about when he gets to the batter's box.

If he's walking up there with a bat in his hand, it's all good.

Hit leadoff ... been there. Hit second in the order ... done that.

Now third in the batting lineup, that's when it gets to be real fun.

"I hit out of the two hole last year and I hit leadoff in high school," Daniel said. "But I love the RBI chances hitting out of the No. 3 hole."

Daniel isn't greedy. He is just a beneficiary of circumstances ... circumstances which can only enhance his value as he starts to march up the Washington Nationals minor league ladder for a chance to play in the big leagues someday.

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Daniel came to Hagerstown earmarked to be the leadoff hitter. His biggest asset was his speed.

After the season started though, Daniel was reaching base, but not scoring. No one was hitting consistently behind him. That prompted manager Tommy Herr to move Daniel down in the order.

"I've just been making consistent contact," said Daniel, Washington's seventh pick in the 2005 draft. "I'll do all I can to help the team. When I was batting leadoff, I was supposed to get on base and get into scoring position. I've been fortunate enough to continually get hits."

The 6-foot-3, 180-pound Daniel moved down two slots in the order during the Suns first roadtrip to Lexington and Greensboro. He has since become the team leader in home runs (5) and RBI (18).

"I've been squaring up and they started going out of the park," Daniel said, with a sheepish grin.

"Squaring up" is probably a good description of Daniel's talents. His size, speed and athletic abilities confirm he is definitely his parents' child.

"My father was a triple jumper in college (McNeese State) and my mother ran a dance studio in New Orleans. ... It was the place to go to learn," Daniel said. "I've been blessed."

Daniel decided to tailor his jumping to fly balls in the outfield and his dancing to slide steps while leading off of first base.

"To be in the minor leagues is big," Daniel said. "I have been playing baseball since I was 2 or 3 years old and I loved the game from the start."

Daniel starred in baseball and basketball for South Mecklenberg (N.C.) High School before going on to play at North Carolina for three years before signing with the Nationals. Daniel hit .351 with three home runs and 22 RBI in his junior year with the Tar Heels.

And like his season thus far, Daniel's career and expectations are pretty open. Yet, he knows he needs to have a complete game because he is entering on the ground floor of the Nationals' rebuilding program.

"I think it has been to build as you play and go," Daniel said. "During spring training, we were told to take time to look and see how guys move around on the field. I take pride in my defense. Our (minor league) coordinators kept telling us that we have to play both sides of the field."

And playing in Hagerstown at Municipal Stadium is part of that learning process to get to the majors.

"We are coming here to learn a lot of things." Daniel said. "We have to learn to play in this kind of weather at this level. At this park, it's good for left-handed hitters, so we have to learn how to play the ball off the walls and learn the different styles of the game."

Daniel isn't about to fool himself into thinking that he will someday be the No. 3 hitter for the Washington Nationals. There are much bigger, stronger guys for those jobs.

"I'm a good on-base percentage guy," Daniel said. "I try to get on and do whatever I need to do to get around the bases. Getting a walk is great. It doesn't matter as long as I get on."

And the Nationals see that as being an asset to their future.

"It's good to know they think highly of you, but you try to keep the dream alive and have it with you," Daniel said. "I've always wanted to be a pro baseball player. I'm in a good situation with the Nationals. They want to try and rebuild and I want to help them win. I want to be a starting outfielder for them someday ... the sooner, the better."

And there is one more thing Daniel, with all his versatility, would like to be remembered for after he moves up the minor league ladder.

"Coming here, every guy in big league ball says they played in Hagerstown," he said. "I want to be able to say that too someday."

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