Woodcreek graduate Black is peppering pitchers in Florida
FORT MYERS, Fla. — Danny Black’s professional baseball experience has included new facial hair and a custom involving a carbonated beverage.
But it’s been a dedicated work ethic and a fix in his swing that have placed him near the top of the Florida State League’s hitters this season. The 2007 Woodcreek High School graduate is having his best season as a pro and having a good time doing it.
Black is the starting shortstop and leadoff hitter for the Jupiter Hammerheads, the Advanced-A affiliate of the Miami Marlins. He’s fourth in the league with a .320 average and Wednesday was named the league’s Player of the Month by the Topps Company of New York.
Black had 11 multiple-hit games and 32 hits in June. His June numbers also included a .348 batting average, a .435 on-base percentage and 21 runs. All ranked second in the league.
One might be tempted to attribute Black’s success to his pregame ritual of drinking a Dr Pepper, but he stopped short of calling it an intangible benefit.
“I just love Dr Pepper,” Black said before Sunday’s 7-5 win over the Fort Myers Miracle. “It’s not for the caffeine or anything. I absolutely love that stuff.”
The factors of his success have been much more practical; he’s put in considerable work to get out from under the radar. Black had an unremarkable run at Woodcreek — he hit .304 over two varsity seasons — but after Feather River College took a chance on him, he blossomed into a successful college player, winning a regional championship. He transferred to Oklahoma University and experienced a trip to the College World Series in 2010.
“I had to work harder and do things right, just think fundamentally and play my butt off just to be able to make teams,” Black said.
Part of that development came because he picked the brains of every baseball man he met. Black is learning the finer points of base-stealing from Marlins leadoff man Emilio Bonifacio, who has been rehabbing with Jupiter. Black is eighth in the league with 16 steals.
Hitting coaches in the Marlins’ organization have worked with Black on his balance. His weakness has been placing his front foot down too hard and getting behind the ball on his swing. Now, his front foot touches the ground more softly and he’s making better contact.
Black’s professional approach has endeared him to coaches. Andy Haines, Black’s manager with Jupiter and last year at Class-A Greensboro, was quick to sing his praises.
“He’s a great example for other guys to watch from the way he works every day, the way he goes about it,” Haines said. “He just gets better every day he gets on the field. He’s reaping the rewards of that work ethic.”
The Marlins selected Black out of Oklahoma in the 14th round of the 2010 draft.
As a college player, he was deemed experienced enough to skip the rookie leagues and started in short-season A ball, where he hit .271 for the Jamestown Jammers of the New York-Penn League.
Last season, he hit .280 with 32 steals to help Greensboro win the South Atlantic League championship, a career highlight he cherishes.
“It was awesome,” Black said. “It was an experience I’ll never forget. The guys were just a great group of guys, and we all just gelled together.”
That “great group of guys” has moved up to Jupiter. Black has established himself as something of a trendsetter in the clubhouse. Black and teammate Isaac Galloway started sporting moustaches for good luck during the second half last season. It has spread throughout the team this season.
“We see how dirty and how awesome we can get them,” Black said. “We started it last year, and this year we’re rolling with it again.”
Being with familiar faces has helped Black with the transition to the Florida State League. It’s a higher level of play and a different stadium environment. There are many rainouts in the Florida summer, and the league is among the worst in attendance. The Hammerheads average fewer than 1,200 fans per game — second-worst in the league — compared to more than 5,600 per game in Greensboro.
“It’s a huge difference,” Black said. “In Jupiter, we just don’t get anybody. It’s really a kind of dead atmosphere, and you have to psych yourself up.”
Black got another taste of bigger crowds — and being a step closer to the bigs — in May, when he spent 10 days with the Jacksonville Suns of the Double-A Southern League. An injury at Triple-A New Orleans opened a temporary roster spot.
Black hit .265 and made the most of the opportunity. In his debut, a 4-3 win over the Pensacola Wahoos, he led off the sixth inning with a single that sparked a comeback. He also drove in the eventual winning run in a 4-3 victory over the Chattanooga Lookouts.
“I’m looking forward to getting back up there to see how I can do for the length of a season and help that team out,” Black said. “But I know that’s going to come with some time and with development, so right now I’m just trying to fine-tune some of the skills that I have and get better at what I need to and stay sharp.”