Danner provides grit for UT heading into regional
Michael Danner had just been hit in the mouth with a pitch.
Blood was running down his chin and chest, mixing with the dirt on his jersey. Yet, as a Gaither senior infielder in 2009, he was determined to stay in the game.
“I wasn't going to leave the game,” the 5-foot-10, 185-pound University of Tampa junior left fielder said. “I was going to go 100 percent for my team in the game right before the district championship.”
At the time, Gaither was facing former Mitchell ace Patrick Schuster, who is now a pitching prospect in the minor leagues for the Arizona Diamondbacks. Schuster had thrown four straight no-hitters and was trying to blank the Cowboys in the Class 6A-District 7 semifinals.
“(Danner) wanted to stay in the game,” Gaither coach Frank Permuy said. “He went down to first base, determined not to leave.”
Eventually, Permuy gave him the inning off by putting in a courtesy runner. Gaither would go on to win 9-4, with Danner driving in a run.
Now, more than four years later, it is Danner's determination that not only has helped Tampa to a No. 2 NCAA ranking in Division II baseball, but also has the Spartans hosting the South Regional today through Sunday.
“(Danner) was always an under-the-radar guy, but he could hit,” Permuy said. “He was always a guy who came early and left late and put in the extra work. He worked really hard at hitting, which paid off because he was always clutch for us.”
Danner was clutch as a senior, batting .373 with 38 hits, 22 RBIs, 11 doubles and seven homers. This season, he's leading the way for the Spartans (39-10), batting .368 with 63 hits, 41 runs, 12 doubles, four triples and five homers, and he is 13 of 17 on stolen-base attempts.
“Coming back to Tampa, it felt really comfortable to play with guys I knew and in my hometown,” said Danner, who played two years at Polk State College in Winter Haven, where he batted .325 with 69 RBIs and 10 homers in 2012. “Tampa was always my No. 1 choice, to be part of this winning tradition. This team has history, and I knew I could be part of something special.”
Spartans coach Joe Urso saw something special in Danner when he was at Polk State. Urso saw a determined, gritty hitter he knew could succeed on a team that has a stacked lineup.
“Mike always stood out when we scouted him — he made my job easy going out to watch him,” said Urso, who is in his 13th season with the Spartans. “He proved to me he was a natural hitter that could spray the ball to all parts of the field. He was a guy who had great power for his size and really fast hands. The ball just jumped off his bat, but what jumped out to me was the baseball player in him.
“He has all the tools that make him a great baseball player.”
Ironically, while Danner was at Gaither, Permuy attempted to make him an outfielder. It never stuck until he got to Polk State, and even more so at Tampa. Now, Danner looks like a natural outfielder, especially since he has seven outfield assists and just two errors.
“It was a great move for him that may get him (drafted) to the next level,” Urso said. “He's had a few scouts talk to him, but they'll probably have to show some high dollar signs to buy out his senior year. I'd love to have him back, because he's a great outfielder and a guy that other players naturally want to follow.”
“He's always a leader by example, but was always one of my favorite guys to have around,” added Permuy, who coached UT in 1977. “He liked to joke around like any typical high school kid, but got serious when it came to baseball. He earned his respect that way.”